The Schools Are Failing Our Kids

As a parent, I’ve watched the NYC public school system change rapidly over the last few years. I’m both saddened and frightened to say that I feel those changes will be detrimental to the majority of today’s students.

Our government is so determined to keep up with the Chinese that we are forgetting that it is just not possible. The change in the school system that includes lesson plans geared towards the top fifteen percent with the hope that the rest will “catch up” is a disgrace. Unlike China, we don’t have the employment opportunities for those who simply cannot keep up in the academic world. We don’t have – nor will we ever again have factories and areas of industry for those who just can’t cut it in school to fall back on for gainful employment. Our labor laws and minimum wage salary have priced us right out of a production industry and there is no going back. Those in Washington who are trying to sell you a different story are LYING to you. Don’t believe them.

So what IS happening inside of our children’s classrooms these days?
Well, for starters, our children are expected to know how to read basic picture books by the end of kindergarten. They will also soon be required to sit for mandatory state testing. Those who cannot keep up will be held back. Kindergarten has always been optional. Now parents are seeking out academic programs for their three year olds in the hope that they can keep up by the time they are five. How wonderful to discover a fear of failing at the tender age of FIVE.

Fiction is also being phased out in favor of non fiction. The theory is that since most of what we read in our adult lives is theoretically non fiction, we no longer need an imagination. Our children will no longer require the creativity inspired by great authors such as William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.R.R.Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and of course Dr. Seuss. We are raising robotic, literal minds now. Check your creativity at the door, please.

What was once ninth grade mathematics is now fourth grade algebra. Buckle your seat belts, parents. You are embarking on Mr. Toad’s wild ride.

So what might happen to our children when faced with insurmountable pressure? Well, we will have to just wait that out but I have a few predictions…

1. Burnout.
Our children will be under so much pressure to succeed that only the most competitive will do well. Many of the rest will find themselves so stressed that by the time they are ready for college, they will be too exhausted to attend. I also fear that the drop out rate will increase as a result.

2. A World With Less Beauty.
How can we ensure the future of such things as visual art, music, dance, theater, and literature when we teach our children that those things are nothing more than extraneous variables?

3. An Expanding Lower Class.
Without extra help and expensive tutoring, many of our children will be lost in the educational cracks. What happens to those kids who can’t succeed in high school and go on to college? They surely won’t be able to qualify for most jobs. Most civil services jobs now require a college degree. How are individuals who struggle with their education supposed to gain employment in civil service? Quite simply, they won’t. Then what?
No cops.
No firemen.
No paramedics.
No transportation.
No sanitation.
No parks.
THAT’S what.

Our education system has been broken for a long time but these new developments have it spiraling downward at warp speed. The control group for this educational experiment is OUR children. As parents, we need to be the change. We need to insist on change. Our children deserve that much. We need our voices to be heard in unison because pressuring our kids like this is not the answer to our economic problems. Our kids deserve to enjoy the process of learning. They should be filling their minds with possibilities and stretching their imaginations. After all, weren’t some of the world’s most innovative discoveries imagined first? What happens to our future when we crush that at such an early age?

I don’t have the answers on how to fix these problems. I have some ideas but it will take more than just my voice to make a change. We need to join together for the sake of our children and their future. I’ve spoken off the record with teachers who agree with me about everything I have posted here. If you agree, start a discussion of your own with other parents. Get more on board with this. We have the power to change things if we come together to make it happen. Let’s make our voices heard so that all of our children will have a bright and successful future.

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Eighty

Today, October sixteenth, would have been my mother’s eightieth birthday.

If you’ve been following, you already know she died of metastatic lung cancer over ten years ago.

I had planned to scatter her ashes in the ocean near the Atlantic City boardwalk today. It’s the only really good memory I have of my mom so it seemed fitting that AC was the proper place to do it. It’s only taken me a decade to decide on where to place her. Circumstances have unfortunately blocked me from carrying my plan through today so it will have to wait just a bit longer. Again.

Why Atlantic City?
About twenty years ago, we spent the day on the shuttle bus that drove us there. We gambled a little, stuffed ourselves (as New Jersey law dictates you must) at an “All You Can Eat” buffet lunch, and strolled the boardwalk with the sunshine on our faces. We told stories, laughed together, and even returned home with some winnings. (Ok, we broke even but that’s still winning, right?).
It will always be the happiest time I had spent with my mother.

Today I’m kind of at a loss. We had the rockiest relationship but she was still the only mother I had. I didn’t learn how to parent from her, but I surely learned how not to. I didn’t learn how to love from her, instead I learned how to keep people at a distance and not allow anyone to get close enough to hurt me.
Since I was a child, I have done absolutely everything I could to be nothing like her.
And yet…
I now live in the house I grew up in.
I sleep in the room I spent years being mentally, physically and emotionally tortured in.
The room that is currently my daughter’s was my room growing up.

Thanks to illness and medication, I am currently wearing the same sized clothing that she wore at my age.
I thought she was fat.
I think even more awful things about myself.

BUT!

I do not, have never, nor will I EVER hit my children.
I will never allow them to feel that they are anything less than the greatest blessings of my life.
I forbid to be trapped by my fears as she was-
Fear of heights? Learned to rock climb.
Claustrophobia? Certified rescue diver.
Terrified of roller coasters? Rode one fourteen times until I was able to release my death grip on the handles and fly down that first dip with my hair and hands waving in the air.
Afraid to love? Love people so completely that they fill my heart to capacity.
Afraid to trust? Still working on that one but when I do? I trust completely.

My mother shaped the person I have ultimately become by teaching me how not to live.

I have struggled to select the best way to commemorate her life.
Today?
I’m just going to enjoy it.
That alone will be enough.

Happy birthday, Mom.

But Wait! There’s More!!!

I just finished telling you about what happened one year ago today but there is actually more to the story about Sandy.

I already told you about how kind she was and that she once planked a desk top on a dare- but she was so much more than that.

Sandy had a kind, warm soul.
She was hilariously funny.
She was a genuine ball buster in the most gracious way possible.
And… She adored animals with all of her heart.

I knew that Sandy was towards the end of her life because I was receiving updates from Stacey. I was really sad but the day I learned that she had died, I wasn’t able to get out of bed. I spent two days straight crying in the fetal position while my husband looked after the kids.

On Sunday morning I logged onto Facebook to see how my friend was doing and this photo appeared in my newsfeed…

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It was a photo of a little three and a half legged dog who needed a home.

Something happened. I knew instantly I had to have that little tripod. I had already named her! She was mine. I was certain of it.

I contacted the person who posted the photo and immediately sent in my application for adoption. Two weeks later, that little pup in the photo came to become a huge part of my family.

Until the moment I saw that picture, I had never considered owning more than one dog. It never crossed my mind. Since the day I brought her home, we have been inseparable. I had never before experienced a bond with an animal like I have currently with “Stella”. She helped to heal the broken part of my heart.

I’d say Stella was heaven sent but I know better.

I’m absolutely positive that she was sent to me by Sandy.

One Year Ago

Today is a sad day for me. It’s the anniversary of a day that brought so much joy, love, laughter and happiness into my life. You see, a year ago I had a visit from across the pond with some dear friends. They had flown to the US to visit with some family and friends and were making a stop here.

I had not seen either of them for over thirty-five years.

Backstory…
My friend Stacey and her mum were among the first people I had met as a baby. I was just a few months older than Stacey but I remembered her always as my best friend from childhood. She was pretty much the only happy memory I had as a child.

And then they moved to England.

I know it was so long ago but I remember crying for my friend for years.
We wrote an occasional letter and our mothers exchanged holiday cards and a photo from time to time, but this was decades before people carried little computers in their pockets and staying in touch required a lot of effort.
Phone calls were extremely expensive and even letters just grew to be too much.
We eventually lost contact.

About a year and a half ago, something stirred my memory and I began telling my husband about my best childhood friend.
Then I had an idea.
Facebook!
I mean, it’s only been a few dozen years. Why not try? So I put her name into the search box and crossed my fingers. How many people were going to pop up? I mean, Facebook is used all over the world, right? There were bound to be several people with the same name as well as the very likely possibility that she wasn’t on Facebook at all or she had changed her name. It was sort of a long shot.

I recognized Stacey’s face instantly when I saw her profile photo. I remembered her eyes that hadn’t changed in all of the years we were apart. I just knew it was her.
The questions and the anxiety started to flutter around.
Will she remember me?
Will she think I was some weirdo?
Will she even want to reply to me?
Eh. If she didn’t want to be bothered, it was ok. People are busy. We were just kids. What was a great friendship in my mind may have barely registered on her radar. Time changes a lot of things.
BUT…
What if she not only remembered me but we renewed our friendship? So…
I wrote her a message and clicked “send”.

We had dozens of email exchanges and it was as if we had been friends all along. Across many years and hundreds of miles, it was as if nothing had changed. You know, other than we grew up, I had a few kids, and we lived an ocean apart. You know, THAT.

One Year Ago…
We arranged to meet for lunch at a diner that is in my neighborhood at Sandy’s (mum) suggestion. That diner had been around since we were kids!
I arrived shortly before they did. I sat at a booth facing the door eagerly awaiting their arrival. I saw them from the window and resisted the urge to perform a running tackle from where I was. We had lunch and then continued dessert as a wonderful bakery nearby. We chatted for as long as we could. I reluctantly had to leave to get my kids from school. Then I had an idea- why not invite them for dinner? I did and after wandering the old neighborhood for a bit, they arrived at my house.

Having Stacey and Sandy in my life again was like finding a piece of my heart that I hadn’t even known was missing. We talked for hours. And hours. Sandy had known my dad since before he became sick with colon cancer. She told me things about my parents that I never knew. She validated beliefs I had held regarding my mother and assured me it wasn’t my imagination. She told me how much my dad loved me.
What Sandy gave me in those few hours were the gifts of a lifetime.
She gave me closure.
She gave me peace.
But even more, she gave me laughter. Both she and Stacy were SO hilarious together. They were both patient and kind with my children and my kids absolutely adored them as did my husband.

I really hated to see the evening end but it had to. They had to be getting back to the city and I had to get the kids to bed.

I wanted to drive them to their hotel but Sandy wouldn’t allow me to. I drove them to the train and we exchanged hugs and promises to keep in touch. Promises, I’m happy to say we have kept.

It pains me to no end that shortly after that visit, Sandy was diagnosed with cancer and dis not live much longer.
The world lost a beautiful, funny lady who once planked a desktop on a dare from her daughter. Her only child lost her incredible, loving mother. I lost someone who was so much more to me than just a friend. Her warmth and genuine ‘joie de vivre’ were an inspiration to me and my family.

Today…
Stacey and I stay in constant contact through Facebook and are planning a future visit. I hope to fly across the pond to visit her when my kids get a bit older.
I think of Sandy a lot and miss her terribly. I hope she knows how very special she was in my life. I like to think she does.

The diner we had lunch at that wonderful day has since closed its doors for good. It had been open for nearly forty years.
I know this much- it had never seen a happier reunion in all of its operating years than it did on that wonderful day.
It could never be topped.
Perhaps it felt it had done it’s job and was time to go.
It makes perfect sense to me.

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My Hero

My daughter received a homework assignment the other day. She was asked to write an essay about her hero. This afternoon she typed it up and then showed it to me.

I choked back the tears until I read it again, alone.

Now, I share it with you…

MY HERO

Heroes don’t have to be strong, or have laser vision, or be able to fly. They don’t even need a cape. They can just be someone who you look up to. Many people have heroes that don’t have super powers. Heroes can be anyone. My hero is my brother called ‘Nick’. Nick is very smart, kind, and is really good at building Lego items. The reason that Nick is my hero is because he is very creative and he encourages me to do my best. These are some of the reasons that my brother Nick is my hero.

My brother Nick is very creative in lots of ways. He loves to build Lego models. Recently my brother constructed a Lego stationary unit called the “Nick 5 Station”. He didn’t even use an instruction booklet! That is a reason that my brother Nick is my hero. Another reason that Nick is my hero is because he encourages me to do my best.For example, I am trying to build a house of cards.he sees that it fell. I am having trouble with it , and Nick says that I am doing a good job. He might come in the room and help me build it. He is very kind to me and he makes me feel like what I am doing is going to work great. Nick is also great at cheering me up when I feel upset. This is why Nick is my hero.

When you ask someone to describe a hero, he/she might say someone who fights crime and saves the day with their powers. But heroes do not have to be super or have powers. They can be a next-door neighbor, a friend,or even the guy who works in the ice-cream truck. But mine is my brother, Nick. He is creative, smart, and hens very kind and bright. Nick is a sibling, and a hero that makes me feel okay. That is why he is my hero.

So…
My daughter’s hero is her brother because of who HE IS.

My hero? Well, that would be my daughter.