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I truly appreciate that you've decided to share part of your day in my world. I hope your time has been well spent and I've made you smile, laugh or think.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I'll Never Leave You a Million Dollars

My dad is a fairly quiet guy.  He never has had to be the center of attention.  He's the guy who sits quietly in the back and watches everything.

When I first started looking at colleges, I always assumed I would got to a state school in Ohio.  While my family wasn't poor, we certainly weren't rich.  Both my parents went to college while I was growing up.  My sister was in college.  There wasn't a lot-- well any- cash floating around to pay for fancy schools.

But then I got a brochure that said "Do you like economics?  Do you like history?  Do you like learning why people do things?  Do you like to debate?" and it described the Industrial & Labor Relations School at Cornell University.  I grew up in the rust belt in the 70s and 80s.  Strikes were a part of my life.  The steel mills were closing.  The farms were folding.  I lived in a John Cougar Mellencamp song.

This labor relations thing seemed up my alley.

My hometown is small so I didn't have a wide view of the world.  If you were smart, you became a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.  This, however, sounded pretty cool.

And the brochure to Cornell- wow.  Ironically, one of my friends from high school is visiting the campus today with her son and she said quite simply "Nothing else will compare."

My dad looked at the brochure and we decided to visit campus.  We had visited Notre Dame like all good Catholics and a few other state campuses.  A trip to central NY in the fall sounded good.

So off we went.

If you've never been to the Finger Lakes region of New York, go.  It's beautiful.  Especially in the fall.  It is breathtaking in the fall.

When we got up in the morning to go visit the campus, my dad questioned my outfit.  I had on long underwear under my skirt, sneakers and my hair was short on one side and longer on the other.  My dad suggested that I pull up the long johns and push my hair under my hat.  He said "This is an Ivy League school-- you need to look the part."  I sighed and took his advice.

We drove around Ithaca trying to find the campus.  We could see the campus.  It's up on a hill. We could see the bell tower.  Finding the road to get there was a little more difficult (this is before GPS).  It was straight out of a Chevy Chase movie. 

We got there and of course, the first person we saw....

...same hair cut, long underwear under her skirt and wearing sneakers.

My dad said "I guess you belong here."


When we drove back to campus for my interview in January it took us 14 hours-- there was a snow storm.  We were tired and frazzled.  Everyone was in tweed.  I was in purple.  The parents were driving BMWs.  We had a Buick.  We felt out of place.  I say we, because even though my dad never said a word, I knew he was thinking the same thing.

Before I went to my interview my dad said "You know if you get in, there is no way in hell we can afford to send you here.  Good luck."

Gee thanks, Dad. 

I went to do my essays.  The kid next to me went to school with Chris Cuomo and said he had interviewed the day before.  THE Chris Cuomo, then he was just the son of the governor.

So when I went back to do my interview I thought there really was no point, so why not have some fun with it?

Dr. Wagner and Professor Barley both explained they would be writing during  the interview so I shouldn't be offended if they didn't make eye contact.  They clearly had been interviewing a lot of other students.  They had a glazed look in their eyes. 

Whatever.  It didn't matter anyhow, right?

They asked what I did.  I explained that I was in a band that competed nationally, I had been class president and I worked as a waitress.  The waitress part seemed to impress them the most.  They had spent a week talking to class presidents.  I had a feeling I was probably their first waitress to apply.

Then they asked what I read and I said "Cosmopolitan... The Rolling Stone..." and they both spit, laughed and dropped their pens.

Dr. Wagner looked up and said "You're the first person that's been honest."  And we laughed how other kids had said Chaucer and I told them that quite honestly, I didn't like Chaucer- I had used an American English translation just to understand it.  They laughed again.

But I left thinking that it had been fun and I'm sure the girl in the purple skirt with the funky hair would give them something to laugh about when comparing the Muffy, Buffy and Skips.

Flash ahead to April.

I had been accepted with a full scholarship to Ohio University in their Tutorial Honors Program.  OU is a good school.  I like the tutorial program.  It was based on the Oxford model.  It's a very fun school with a good reputation.  It wasn't stuffy. The campus is nice.  I had friends there.  And it was free.  I should also point out that the program to which I had been accepted was more selective than Cornell.  My Plan B was not a bad plan.  I really was okay with it.

April 1st used to be when most top schools sent out notification letters.  Via mail.  I had show choir practice after school and had to be at work.  I was on my way to work from school, in my waitress uniform, and I thought screw it, I wanted to know.  Regardless if I was going, I just wanted to know if I was good enough.  Little ol' small town, blue collar me.

I drove up to my mailbox and my neighbor Mr. Wheeler greeted me singing the alma mater.  I knew... he had looked (yes, I know it's a felony, but I adored him and loved that he took the time to learn the alma mater).  The mailbox was full of envelopes with the Cornell logo.  When I saw the Residential Life envelope, I started shaking.  Then I saw THE letter...

Dear Miss:

We would like to offer you....


I ran into the house and called my dad at work.  I was shaking.

"Dad, I did it!  I got in!  I know we can't afford it, but isn't it great!?!?! I got in!"

There was a pause and then my dad said one of the most profound things I had every heard:

"I will never be able to leave you a million dollars, but I'll make sure you can earn your own. We'll figure something out."


My heart stopped.

I could go.

My hard work all those years had paid off when other kids partied and read Cliff Notes, doing my homework in a booth in the back of the restaurant when it was quiet-- I had a ticket out.

Now I'm not going to lie and say it was easy.  I worked a LOT in college.  Cornell was very generous, too.  I worked hard to keep my scholarships and to make sure I could stay there.  There were more than a few times I thought how much easier it had would have been to go to OU.  My senior year in college I was fortunate to take a position that normally went to graduate students so most of my tuition was covered.  It was exhausting.

I didn't go on fabulous spring break trips-- I usually worked.  Aside from volunteering, there weren't any activities- I couldn't afford it.  When my roommate wanted to order pizza and I said I had no money, she remarked that I could pay her tomorrow when I went to the ATM. I laughed and said "Um there's no money in the ATM." 

But I got a fantastic education.  I traveled the world through research programs and internships.  I had my choice of jobs during the last bad recession when I graduated.  I got to study with some of the brightest people I'd ever met- professors and students.

It was worth it. 

Because you know, Dad, I built a business and I'm dependent on no one.  Just like you wanted.  Because you had faith in me and what I could do.  It wasn't simply the degree-- it was the idea that anything was possible.

You don't need to leave to me a dollar-- you already gave me the most important things of all-- love and opportunity. And it continues to compound.

Thank you.

Happy Father's Day!  I love you!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Day the Crayons Died or The Straw that Broke Mama Bean's Back

"Imagination is more important than knowledge"- Albert Einstein.

Unless you are in Clark County Schools.

My children go to public school.

I believe very strongly in a public education for all children.

I am married to a teacher.

I went to public school.

As an employer, albeit a small one, I think a strong education system is vital to attracting and keeping businesses in the area.

I don't want to live in a city of morons.  Las Vegas was most recently named the Dumbest City in America for the lack of our academic prowess. 

It's an embarrassment and a shame.

Our school district frequently ranks near the bottom of all national rankings.  I usually blame the parents, but this time, this time, my friends I am blaming the system.

We have a principal at our school that I was warned about from nearly everyone in our neighborhood prior to starting school.  I would like to add that towards me directly, she has always been professional.  I personally have had no bad interactions with her.  I, at first, thought people must surely be exaggerating.

I do not doubt the stories any longer.  I will get to that in a minute.

I don't want to get involved in employer/employee issues.  It's not my role as a parent.  It is not my issue.

My issue is they took the crayons out of the first grade classrooms.

Yes, you read that right.


There is, apparently, no need for crayons any longer at the first grade level.

Sorry kids.  You're 7.  Time to grow up, Buttercup.

First grade.

When my daughter told me this, I thought I misunderstood.  It was towards the end of the year.  I thought maybe the crayons were looking nasty and they were cleaning up.  Or that kids had been eating them.  That was popular with a few kids when I was in 1st grade (and glue...although for some, that seemed to continue into adulthood...).

Nope.  The principal told the 1st grade teachers to get rid of the crayons.

They are not part of the core curriculum and therefore, since they are not tested on coloring, there is no need for it.

No joke.

I could NOT make this up.

I don't even LIKE to color and I'm horrified.  In fact, I joke that my inability to color has never impacted my career.  But wait a minute...

Coloring is creativity.  Creativity is absolutely, positively what makes our country stand out.  New ideas.  Ingenuity.

Things that crayons inspire.

The Mother's Day gifts this year had to utilize the core curriculum.  No pencil holders or vases.  Or the politically incorrect ashtrays that we made when I was in school.  My daughter's teacher whom I love had them do these cute little construction paper purses and they wrote facts about their moms, like they were books.  It was great. Honestly, I preferred it over another vase.  But the teacher had to fight to show that it was part of the blessed curriculum.

Astrocamp- a weekend spent in the mountains with scientists studying astronomy, geology, physics while ziplining and rock climbing  that I was privileged to chaperone for my son's 4th grade class-- was cancelled.  It interfered with the testing dates. 

Seriously people- what do you think my son benefited from more-- a standardized test or Astrocamp?

Sea Camp-- something my son has been looking forward to for the past 5 years-- was intentionally moved to a date that will be impossible for the teacher to get enough kids to sign up for-- because it's expensive.

Oh- and we can't do fundraisers for it.  All fundraisers go into the school general fund.

Which is used to pay for---

You guessed it- tutoring.  Which is a fancy way to say "test prep."  The criteria for qualifying for this tutoring is your test scores.

And the Rubik's Cube club that I wanted to start-- nope. It would interfere with the tutoring.  When I pointed out that the kids who were in tutoring probably wouldn't do the Rubik's Cube club, I was told that if not every kid could participate, then we (the school) couldn't do it.  It almost sounds logical.

We hold the national championship for Rubik's Cube in Las Vegas, by the way.  Which is what inspired my son to want to start it.  Other elementary schools have teams and compete.

Or here's a thought-- maybe those kids COULD benefit from learning a different type of math by solving the Rubik's Cube? Call me crazy.... I mean look at these crappy universities that waste their time on it...

MIT's Rubik's Cube Club   Princeton's Rubik's Cube Club   Cornell's Rubik's Cube Club  Stanford's Rubik's Cube Club

Or what about the other 550 kids who don't go to tutoring?  Do they have to suffer?

My son, who does robotics, was set to share his knowledge with the upper grades last year.  The principal found out about it and he wasn't allowed.  He was very upset.  It wasn't part of the core curriculum.

You know, science and applied mathematics...

Oh wait... that IS on the test... maybe if he had done his presentation as a set of multiple choice questions...

Ballroom dancing.  Gone.

Fitness club.  Gone.

Chess club.  Gone.

Mad Science.  Gone.

Now, I will say, some of these activities cost money, so that was also an issue.  But again, when kids can't raise funds for their specific activities, what are their options?

Sorry kid-- you are poor.  You can't do anything fun. Now back to filling in bubbles.

Our school is representative of everything that is wrong in education today.

My friend's daughter was recently flagged as needing special education.  They suddenly started to get robo calls from the school telling them about open enrollment options at other schools.  Her other daughter, was welcome to stay.  No robo calls for her or my children about open enrollment and transfer options.  They were basically trying to pawn off her daughter to another school.  To keep their test scores up.

And the WORST part- after having 30% of the staff leave on a regular basis- is the district has known there were issues for the past 7 years and has chosen to do nothing about it.

That made me flip my lid.

Seven years they've been looking into the high staff turnover and high request for zone variances out of the school.

Seven years.  They have reports tracking the departure of teachers and students.

And they've done nothing.

Because the test scores are great.

At what cost?

And again, I don't know that I necessarily fault the principal-- she is doing exactly what she is being told to do.

To a point that it's ridiculous, yes, but still - nearly half of her evaluation is based on test scores.

Test scores that should be used to evaluate where children stand.

To decide who needs more help and give them the additional assistance needed.

To identify gifted children and make sure they are given extra resources to thrive and meet their potential.

They are not, nor should they EVER be used to determine compensation or teacher and administrator  competency.

Because, I'm sorry, my child's education should be incentive enough.  There shouldn't be a bonus or a promotion if they learn.

And the children that need help shouldn't be shoved aside or forced to stay after school so they can take a standardized test so people get paid or rated well.

These aren't widgets. They are children.  They are unique individuals.

Of course there are bad teachers-- that is why they have evaluations.  That is why when the parents kick and scream the district should listen.  And clearly they don't.

They should not use standardized test scores as a defense to prove that someone is a good teacher.

And crayons, my friends, they are not the weapons of anarchy. 


When creative and original thought becomes a negative within a system- for students and teachers-- we have taken 10 steps backwards.

I don't want to live in the world where people can't think or see the forest for the trees.

I don't want to be in a district where SEVEN years of complaining is overridden by test scores.  Test scores that are "earned" because of behavior that is harming my children's education.

When you take crayons away from children you are essentially duct taping their minds. 



They are taking away the crayons.

We must act before we live in a world without color.

Look... Crayola even has lessons plans for teachers....

Crayola's Lesson Plans for Teachers

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Last Day of School and the First Hour of Summer Vacation

A few days ago I wrote a very heartfelt blog about how excited I was to spend quality time with my kids this summer.

Perhaps I blogged prematurely.

(that sounds dirty, doesn't it?)

Well, today was the last day of school.

We needed to get the teachers gift cards before school.  We were going to go to Starbucks for breakfast.  It was just a half day, so I didn't need to pack lunches.  There was no need to hurry or rush.

Well, that went to crap in a hurry.

At 8:15 my children eventually made it downstairs.  I am CONVINCED that there is a time warp in our staircase.  From the time I hear "I'm coming" to the time I actually see them is a half hour journey.  We are not the Kennedy's.  We do not have a compound.  It's a few steps.  A few steps that clearly have a black hole that sucks them in on their way down the stairs.

So here they are.

And no, their hair is not brushed.

My son has also clearly been sleeping in the garbage or something.

"Skip- are those the same shorts you had on yesterday?"  Why yes, they are.  Because clearly the other shorts he has that are exactly the same are far too difficult to put on.  So back up the stairs he goes.  I know I've lost him into the blackhole for a few more minutes.

Then here comes Zoey.  She wants to brush her own hair.  Isn't her outfit cute?

Seriously- no.  It was a striped grey/black skirt with a cute purple sparkly t-shirt that in no situation matched.  And brown shoes.

But hey, it's now 8:20.  I can't afford to lose her to the blackhole so we go with it.  She sorta brushes her hair.  I throw in some ponytails.

At 8:30 Skip reappears and we leave for Albertsons.

In the car Skip notices that we have not had breakfast.


There is a Starbucks in our Albertson's.  With a giant line.  So much for breakfast.  I take the kids to the card section to pick out a thank you card.

No Zoey, that is not a thank you card.  That is a housewarming card.  I know your teacher moved recently but you need to get a card that says Thank You.  How's this one...

No... that is a wedding card... would you please just come over here and look at these...

Skip is now also taking his time to peruse the selection.

I finally grabbed a funny one and said HERE-- he laughed.  It was good.  I grabbed one for Zoey.

Sad faces.  They wanted to pick out their own cards.

Screw that.

Now comes the gift card selection.

No Skip, Mrs. Hill probably does not want a gift card for Nintendo...

Here... how's Starbucks and the Cheesecake Factory?

Now we are off to the register.  It is 8:50.  They are hungry.

I fed them Snickers bars.

Yes, that's right.  My children had Snickers bars for breakfast.  It was that or Tic-Tacs. 

So much for our special last day of school morning.

Then we get to the school and CRAP- it's the 5th grade graduation so every parent, grandparent, etc. is at the school.  And they are resurfacing all the streets in the neighborhood so it's a freaking obstacle course to get there.

Then they are gone.  Phew.  No hugs.  No kisses.  No photos.  Just the backs of their heads.

And I rush off to the office because I am buried.  In a good way, but really, really busy.  I should have never gone in and just taken the day off like I planned.  I can never seem to get much done, even in 3 hours.

I had to pick them up at what I thought was 12:45 but was really 12:40.  And everyone is already leaving and I get the "You were late!" speech from the children who took 30 minutes to walk down 18 stairs. 

Really?  Really kids?  5 freaking minutes??  In 7 years of school, they've been late once getting there, but I suck at the pick up times.  My husband is the pick up guy.  He is done at 2:15.  But it was also his last day of school as well and he didn't get a half day.  Or if he did and hit happy hour with his colleagues, well, that's okay, too.

So now I had envisioned a nice afternoon- lunch at their choice of restaurant and maybe a movie?  But first, they had to argue about where we were going for lunch.

We decide on CiCis Pizza.  Yum.  Okay, not so much.  But hey, it was their day, right?  So the fact that I am not eating gluten or dairy right now does not make pizza the best choice to begin with, but I'm cool.  I roll with it.  I can eat off their salad bar with 5 toppings.  Mmmmmm.

It was packed.  As in crazy packed.  As in opening day of Disneyland packed.

We found a table.  They ate. They bickered.  Then the following exchanges occured:

Zoey is whining that she wants tokens-- it's not in the greatest neighborhood and it was standing room only-- then she started in about the party that I hadn't heard anything about it---so I'm trying to text the mom to see if she really was invited or if her daughter was just telling everyone to come over (both our girls tend to do that- holidays, vacations-- they are givers).

My daughter starts in on this hilarious speech about how it's not good for her to watch TV.  "Is that what you want, Mom?  I don't think it's good for me to sit on the couch and watch TV. I want to go swimming. It's not healthy for kids to sit on the couch and do nothing..."

I, of course, find this hilarious so I get out my phone to record her.

"Mom, this is NOT funny.  I'm serious.  Don't you record this and put it on the internet."

So I put it away, cracking up.  I was totally going to do that.

Now I'm trying to text my husband-- then my other friend had called and I was thinking maybe she wanted to do something or was going to this one pool party.. and the kids are fighting and arguing over a scratch Skip has on his arm (my daughter did NOT think it was funny when I said he was fighting a wildebeast) and why don't we ever do anything fun... and I'm texting and answering questions... and can she please have tokens... and no, you cannot because you cannot go into the arcade alone because it's packed in there and I'm trying to figure out what we're doing this afternoon... and wait, Skip you have an invitation to a party at 3:30-- wait... I did know that... wasn't it after school???  are you sure it was at 3:30-- that doesn't sound don't want to see a movie--- you do want to see a movie... hang on... I'm getting the details about the pool party... no, you cannot have tokens...I know you want a rubber duck from the machine... hang on a second...stop touching each other...Zoey, I will buy you a rubber duck... it is packed in there... would you please be nice to your sister... okay... do you want anything else... I am checking on the pool party... let me see what your dad wants to do... will you PLEASE quit fighting... no... YOU CANNOT HAVE ANY TOKENS! WE ARE LEAVING NOW.


And then we drove home in silence.

And my son's pool party, after he rode his bike in the heat (105) was over at 3:30. It was, in fact, after school.

And my daughter did not watch TV because since she felt so strongly that it was a bad thing to do, I did not allow it.

For 2 hours, our house was dead quiet.

But in the end, and I kid you not, the kids did, in fact, have a complete turn around in behavior. Almost miraculous.  They were very apologetic.  They knew that had crossed a line with the gimme-gimme-gimme.

I got some work done at home.  They chillaxed.

Oh- and the best part-- the backseat of my car is immaculate.  Not one thing.

So aside from the psychological damage, I think we all survived.

But I have one question---

Is it August yet?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eternally 12

I am, apparently, eternally 12.

I can't help it.

My friend's son, when he was about 12 told me that I didn't seem like other adults.  I just seemed like a big kid.  And he added "No offense."

None taken.  Thanks!

It's not to say that I'm immature-- well.... maybe.

But honestly, farts, burps, dirty words-- they STILL make me giggle.

I think part of it is that I was a fairly serious kid.  I was a very mature kid.  For a kid.  I just never continued with the maturity apparently.

I am responsible.  I pay my bills.  I do many grown up things.  But at the end of the day, there is still a whole lot of immature running throw my veins.

Take tonight for example.

My daughter mentioned something about cocktails and how they were named after the tail of a cock.

She is 7.

My son, who is 10 said: "How do you know what a cock is?"

Then they proceeded to have an entire conversation on what a cock is.

As in a male chicken.

A very real, polite, discussion on it.

As my husband, who is also 12, and I sat across from each other trying to keep a straight face every time they uttered the word cock.

He is clearly my soulmate.

Last Thursday I had a computer training class with my staff.  It was on office procedures and our corporate calendaring system.

They talked about writing a to-do for follow-up letters.

Which they abbreviated f/u letter.



I'm the boss, I know, but I couldn't hold back.

This opened up a pandora's box of jokes from me "Well, I can think of a few clients who might need an f/u letter, but in general, I think that's a bad idea for business..."

And I couldn't stop.

Because I'm 12.

I use phrases like "That's cool" or "That sucks" to quantify my like or disgust with something.  I have a very eloquent, diverse vocabulary.  Just don't ask me to use it.

I use phrases like "bat in the cave" to let my family know they have boogers hanging out of their noses.  And I wait for a few minutes and sometimes snap photos before saying it.  I also think the word booger is hysterically funny.

I like to play online games, although I really suck at Wii and XBox.

I roll my eyes far too often.

I laughed as hard as my son at "Captain Underpants" because the word underpants itself is funny- let alone a grown man pretending to be Captain Underpants.  Great literature.

On the outside, I may look adultlike.  Tax payer.  Business owner.  Mother of 2.  Loving wife.

But on the inside, not in the least.  In fact, I am mesmerized that I function as well as I do and that my children have survived as well as they have. 

So if you see me and I am biting my lip- it's not a nervous habit.  It's probably because I either just farted or you have a bat in the cave.