Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Pay-to-Play

I have brought two significant programs to my children's elementary school - Odyssey of the Mind and an annual theatrical production. I'm sure I've babbled on about both in great length, and if I haven't, it's because I'm too busy during the seasons of the activities to get my thoughts down. But this morning, I wanted to scream.

Our school PTA boasts about the two programs whenever they say what contributions to PTA pay for. The theater program, at least, is one of the more visible programs in the school - mostly because the principal generously allows two afternoon assemblies so the musical can be performed for the entire school. (Our school has no space that a school-wide assembly can take place - about half the school can fit in our multipurpose room where assemblies are held.)

When the program started, I negotiated A LOT with the PTA about how it would be run, and made several compromises so that they would support the program. I put in a ton of hours, before, during, and after the production. The plan was to hand the program over to a parent who helped me out last year (which was awesome, because my job exploded during the busiest time of the musical and absent her, I would've had to give up sleep and things definitely would've fallen through the cracks).

One of the issues we discussed when the program started up was whether and how much to charge students. The theater we work with charges about $7,000 to cover their staff and supplies. We also need to rent rooms at the school on two Saturdays (which cost about $400 each) and then there are other production costs like cast photos and a little party at the end. So...let's say it costs about $8,000 to run the program.

Up to 40 students may participate in the main show in front of the curtain, and another dozen participate as crew for the final two weeks of the show. One of the huge successes of the program is that, in just two years, it has become quite popular - and is fully subscribed. Importantly, it is popular with students who are not necessarily into sports and other school activities. I work very hard to find underrepresented students - though I wish I could be more successful at this.

I submitted my annual budget request to PTA - and received a note back that the parent taking over the lead of the production and the president of the PTA had decided that a FORTY PERCENT price increase for participating students was appropriate. No reason was given, other than "we felt it was appropriate". So...on net, the PTA is now willing to fund about 15 percent of the total budget.

So basically - PTA makes the rules, promotes the program as if they are a significant contributor, and really - is barely subsidizing the program. The program moves much closer to a pay-to-play system, than the school wide opportunity I've been trying to build. We should be moving toward the PTA fully funding the program, given how much credit PTA gets.

It's always frustrating to see programs that I love change. I've seen several programs at the school get downgraded as the original program founder left the school. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's happening to this one as well - but it's still disappointing.

Elaine

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Inspiration

Yesterday, Desiree Linden won the Boston Marathon. I was loosely watching a live-feed of the finish line, along with the leaderboard standings. Pretty close to the finish, it looked like she'd be finishing within a second of Edna Kiplagat. In 2011, Desiree's chase at a Boston win ended with a second place finish - by two seconds. I almost jumped up and started cheering when the finish line camera showed she was on her own.

Seriously. By the time she came into view no one else was even close. She beat the next finisher, Sarah Sellers, by four minutes. And Sellers didn't even know she was running for second! In all, US women were seven of the top ten finishers.

But the part I like best? A longtime favorite runner of mine, Shalane Flannagan, needed a pit stop very early in the race. Desiree Linden stopped with her so Shalane - a friend and teammate - would have someone to run with to catch back up to the pack. And on Twitter, when Kara Goucher sent congrats and praise to Desiree - people tweeted back at Kara that she had gotten this whole thing started.

I often think about how in the part of the pack I run, nobody will win. So we cheer each other, we smile a lot, we remind our fellow runners that we can accomplish what we've set out to do. If someone has extra energy, they send it out. If someone needs it, they take it in.

And I'm almost in tears that this is what happens - at least for women - at the front of the pack as well. Today, there is no finer example in sports of how you do it right.

Hat tip to everyone who ran that race yesterday. The conditions have been described as the worst ever.

Elaine




Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Two Years

Two years ago, a woman who lives about a mile away from me responded to a group run invitation for a run not too far from us. Based on a prior post of hers, I suspected we were pretty similar runners - so I sent her a message and basically said "hey - I'm in your neighborhood and looking for a Tuesday morning running partner". Lucky for me, she said "let's try it" and now, two years later, we've both overslept and missed a run once (I think), we've missed a few post-marathon Tuesdays as our bodies recovered, we've been out of town on vacation a few weeks - but other than that, we've met to run. We've probably run more than 500 miles through our neighborhood together - and I'm so lucky to have her.

A few weeks ago, during some computer maintenance, my running log spreadsheet got destroyed. Ed tried to help me recover it but to no avail. So when Jenny reminded me it was our anniversary last week, it was all the sweeter.

As it turns out, she's a lot faster than me - so she slows down on Tuesdays, I speed up, and always - we chatter about kids, school, a little bit of politics, and whatever is happening around the neighborhood. I can't imagine starting Tuesday any other way.

Elaine

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Start of school

Also from the draft pile - started in September:

Another year has begun, and with that comes the close of summer. On the bright side (for me), running has become a lot more pleasant. My legs were even red this morning when I returned home - because it was 53 degrees! Also on the bright side (for me) is that everyone now has their (almost) normal schedule. Piano and violin lessons resume next week, and in a couple of weeks Helen's after-school class will begin. Then, except for the random work travel and early release from school days, things will be steady. And, as a result, I'm back to riding my bike - which is a great way to commute.

On the downside, my children have both begun their steady drumbeat of "I hate school" rants, which I mostly ignore. Because guess what? I hate it, too. But I'm not homeschooling either of them and I can't imagine paying for some expensive private school (which may or may not be deemed better) when I could instead save that money to send my children to college - or me to Paris. Always, I want to be in Paris.

This year, Connor has a computer science class, which purportedly is difficult enough to make people quit. Hopefully, this will provide at least a tiny bit of challenge to keep him interested. If nothing else, I suspect he'll have the opportunity to create a few games, which should be fun.

His math class is a disaster. Last year, the district implemented a new class for his cohort. Though it held the same title as several other sections of the class, it consisted of a group of very high-scoring students on multiple exams. The teacher pushed those kids hard, and while it barely provided challenge, it did at least interest him about 40 percent of the time. In contrast, a few kids dropped the class because it was too time-consuming, and I learned only recently that several parents complained the class was too hard. Sigh.

And, I suppose partly in response to those complaints, Intensified Algebra has no special section. Instead, it's a group of students from his last year's class as well as students from other classes. Predictably, as I finish this post off in January, the class has not been a challenge. The only challenge is walking the tightrope of turning enough homework in to maintain an A. Connor's lack of organization keeps him from turning several assignments in each quarter, though I do believe he completes most of them.

I've never quite pinned down how much Helen truly hates school. She'll say she doesn't like it, but she definitely likes chatting it up with friends at lunch and hanging out at recess. It's never clear to me whether her drumbeat of "I hate school" is just her reflecting Connor's angst, or her own. She, at least, has the distraction of the school musical, and this year she's singing in a choir across town which has been fun.

On the bright side - we're about halfway through the year now - which means respite is just 5 months away.

Phew!

Elaine



Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Damn Video Games

I realized that I have over 100 draft blog posts sitting in my unfinished queue.  I wrote the blow in October. I'm an effing soothsayer. And I wish that wasn't true!

Video games are going to be the death of me. We reached an all-out low in our household this summer, which ended with a phone termination (briefly), and a website termination (permanently). And while, now that we are over a month out, Connor can talk about my terminations being both reasonable and warranted, it has become obvious that I'm a dog chasing its own tail.

There is no end.

I'm always running around in circles.

Elaine


Friday, January 26, 2018

My First Shot!

A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago for work. I decided to attend the conference, in part because Hamilton was there, and I desperately wanted to see it. Because I have tickets for all of my family in New York this coming summer, I decided I would just get a (relatively) cheap seat for Chicago.

My dear friend's brother-in-law in the house manager at the Chicago theater, so I emailed my dear friend and asked him if his brother-in-law could confirm the "obstructed view" seat I had my eye on was just a little bit bad, and not terrible.

He came back with "my brother-in-law will get you house seats", which translated into "the best damn seat in the theater for less than half price - cheaper than the obstructed view seat I was mulling over. But, better than that, an hour before the show, my friend's sister texted me with the instructions "meet at the stage right door, 10 minutes after the last note sounds" and that is when it hit me that I was getting a backstage tour!

The show was amazing. From the first note to the last, it did not disappoint. And during that tour, I met Miguel Cervantes, who is playing the role of Hamilton. He allowed me the below fangirl moment, which still makes me smile.


I felt a wee bit guilty attending the show without Helen. But I quickly got over that, knowing that soon enough she will get to call Hamilton her first Broadway show.

A week later I was in Chicago again - just for the day. I considered staying overnight just so I could see the show again! It was that good.

Elaine

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In between...

Having a 10 and 12 year old in the house means we are basically always in-between something and often, on edge. And I'm not just talking about being between the activities we are running to and from.

For starters, I'm trying to grow independent children. I need them to be able to care for themselves at some point, and at a later point, care for me. One of the things they take on themselves is scheduling their own entertainment. They call their friends, their friends come over, they leave the house to go see friends, etc. And while they are generally very good about asking me before they make these calls or disappear, they ask with an urgency that means "CAN I, AT THIS EXACT MOMENT, HANG OUT WITH MY FRIENDS". And sometimes, often, I am in the middle of my own thoughts figuring out how I am going to stack my errands into the day ahead, and it hurts my brain to switch and think about their friends. But not only am I interrupted once, which generally comes with me mentally restacking my day so that I can be home if friends are coming over, I am often interrupted two or three times because they get on the phone and must negotiate the timing of their hanging out. Before they had this independence, I would attend to the task of asking their friends' parents if they could come over when I was ready, and the parent almost never answered at the moment of the ask, so it was a long, deliberate, process.

We are also in between being annoyed by the existence of parents and being grateful for the existence of parents. We used to lean hard toward the latter, and we're creeping towards the former. I remember the days of arguing who had the privilege of sitting next to me. Now, I am sometimes greeted with eye rolls. However, the 12 year old will also dance a silly dance as the 10 year old plays violin and we all wait for dinner to cook. We share hand dances in the car, laughter over the Simpsons, and can still run around the house being a little crazy. Guessing all of that stuff will come to an end at some point, but 12 and 10 are still firmly planted in both worlds.

The thing about both of these balancing act - time with friends  / time with family; time being silly / time being annoyed - is that I sometimes feel like I'm getting whiplash as my brain does a little ping pong dance between all these states.

So this morning, when my running partner and I ran across a little creek, I said "you must have so much fun with your children here". And, yes, she agreed, this was a magical spot. A spot where rocks splashed in the stream, leaves floated along, and everyone enjoyed the outdoors. Her children are much younger than mine. I kind of miss the days of knowing where everyone was.

Elaine

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Roy Moore Can Suck It

Dear Helen,

Two days ago, Roy Moore barely lost an election to represent Alabama in the Senate. Roy Moore is a man who has spent his life being as nasty as possible. It's like he wakes up each day and rather than deciding how he can add value in the world for a lot of people, decides who he's going to take a crap on in order to preserve his circle of white men, who at least used to provide him a solid wall of protection. Roy Moore was defeated because black women voted in record numbers and almost none of them voted for him. I wish I could say the same thing about my white sisters, who did vote for him. Shame on them.

Here are just a sampling of things that might persuade reasonable people to know that Roy Moore is not fit to serve in any place that comes into contact with the public. He has declared that Muslims ought not be allowed to serve in Congress. He believes the last time America was great was when slavery existed. A number of credible women have come forward to report on his predatory behavior when they were teens (and this one was the one where I could almost taste my own vomit, because it brought up the related stories that there are a fair number of people who practice fundamentalist strains of "religion" TODAY and they are not been kind to women - believing it's OK for older men to find very young teens to groom to be their perfect mates). Yes, people think that way. He was removed as Alabama's chief justice for defying an order to remove the Ten Commandments statue from the rotunda of the Alabama judicial building. He believes we ought to kill gay people in the name of protecting their kids. And that our country would be better with only the first 10 amendments. Yes, that means he thinks we shouldn't be able to vote. He does all this in the name of religion.

And now, two days later, he's refusing to concede he lost the election. To borrow a term from my youth, this makes him a class-A a**hole. (And no, I do not know the distinctions between other types of a**holes, but I still find this expression funny.)

Why do I bring this up? Because I had high hopes that you, my daughter, would live in a world that was freer from discrimination and harassment than those who came before you. Maybe you will, but I'm never certain. Just when things seem to be turning around, a man like this runs and gets so close to being elected that my heart stops. Just absolutely stops beating. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. He should've lost 100 to 0.

But I did want to highlight a lovely experience I had yesterday juxtaposed against all of this. I'm on a National Academies professional panel studying an issue I'm interested in right now. We had our first convening meeting and there were two women (one of whom is leading the panel) who are at least 20 years older than me - and do you know what they did when they were introduced? They not only shared why they were part of the panel, but they made a point of highlighting research from me and other younger women in the room, that they had found so helpful. It was obvious to me what they were doing. They were laying down a little mark for everyone in the room that I was supposed to be there, despite not having spent as many years focused on the issue. It was a kind gesture. And it wasn't lost on me that my male colleague to the right of me and several others blathered on about how great they were, without a single nod to anyone else. Women are building coalitions focused on holding each other up.

I mention this, because I am completely convinced that the way women will lead the next revolution (and I do believe it's coming, but I don't know when!) by building other women up. And so I invited two young women in another center in my own organization to submit a proposal with me to fund some work they are interested in doing.

I know that I have been very lucky in my career to have women mentors and bosses who, when the rubber meets the road, will defer to my opinion as appropriate. I have had bosses who, recognizing that I'm unlikely to have a big fight in a staff meeting, will come to my office after the meeting to get my side of the issue - and then acting on that. I cannot imagine how devastating crossing paths with a Roy Moore must have been for so many.

Roy Moore, and others like him, are the reason that when you come home and tell me you were asked to transcribe numbers for a boy in your class I'm mad. Because I know that this is just a subtle message to you that you're good enough to be the recorder, but might not be good enough to do the actual work - which is just not true. Lucky for you, your homeroom teacher agreed immediately and stopped the practice (which was occurring in another class).

So I guess this is a long-winded way of saying - no matter what happens in your life, please look to other women to get your back, and please be willing to get the backs of others. We are all in this together. And while my generation may have failed yours (and I will never be able to express how deeply I regret this), in the end, maybe your daughter will grow up in the world I imagined could be yours - if we just stick together.

Love,
Mom

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Wasteland

It seems as if I have, once again, let this blog fall to the wastelands. The quick update is:

I ran the marathon, only a little bit injured, and came in barely under 4:15, making it my slowest marathon yet. It was hot. I melted. But I realized once again how lucky I am to have met my running friends. They are truly the best people in the world.

I spoke at a local school board meeting, attended more office hours with Connor, and it all came to what feels like a very positive head a week ago. The school board took a full hour to discuss the option of putting intensified classes in the middle school - something I've been working on as part of a committee for a few years now. With fingers crossed, there might even be the option of a pilot next year. But surely, surely, we'll get this win before Helen hits middle school.

Last night, Connor volunteered at the school system's hour of code. At first, he was assigned a job attending a craft table, and this about broke him. Unfortunately for him, I was in the midst of what can only be considered the most dramatic moment of my entire career, and I just did not have the capacity to step in and try to solve this problem. So I told him - email them back, tell them what job you would prefer, and see what they say. He crafted a polite note, ran it by me, and sent it. And guess what? He got the assignment he wanted. How's that for self-advocacy? And more than that, one of the school board members he had visited and had a robust conversation with saw him there, came up to Connor, and said "hello". Little dude was thrilled enough to text me.

Helen's school musical will be performed Thursday and Friday. It's been another great experience and hopefully the school will continue the collaboration. If not, it's been a wonderful ride. I had hoped to pass off my role as parent liaison to another parent next year, but the parent who volunteered isn't sure she'll be here next year (job change for her partner), so I'm back to square one looking for a new volunteer.

Odyssey teams are up and running. That is a drama I would love to avoid in the future - so I announced I'm quitting my role as coordinator effective at the end of this season. I was supposed to have help recruiting, but a few days before the meeting, the person who had volunteered to help became unavailable. It snowballed downward from there.

Professionally, my life was devastated when a giant tax cut that gives almost no help to low- and middle-income families made its way through the House and Senate. Time to breathe deep and regroup.

That's the quick rundown so when my children look back, they have a tiny sense of what happened in this gap.

Cheers!
Elaine

Friday, October 6, 2017

Running update

I have Achilles' Tendonapathy. As far as I can tell, that means a PT has free reign to massage the every-living-crap out my leg, causing me to limp around for a while, and then a few hours later - feel magically better.

I will not break myself while running, as far as the PT and the massage therapist can tell.

I'm cleared to do everything but speed work. My ankle is weak, I can't push off, this makes me slow.

But...I have three weeks to get the ankle in line, so now, I take full advantage of my standing desk and do leg lifts a few times a day, hoping to strengthen the little booger.

So...I still consider a 3:50 on the very edge of my abilities. It's likely to be a hot day (not good), but my Tuesday running partner is going to run the bulk of the race with me (cue choirs of angels here). She has a fascinating job, which crosses all sorts of interests for me, and it really isn't much of a stretch to think she could come up with 3+ hours of stories to keep my mind off what will surely be a very painful run.

My parents will also see me run, which will be a huge lift. (Hopefully they will not blink and miss me. That would be a huge bummer.) They'll probably see me one or two times in the first 15 miles, and then they'll head off to Helen's soccer game, or Ed will decide the crowds are just too much to bear for another glimpse. I totally understand this, of course.

I have promised myself when I pass my friend Erin, who always comes out to cheer, that I will not give her a huge thumbs down like a did last year. I immediately regretted my bad attitude, but by the time I saw her on her bike, my dreams of qualifying for Boston were over. I was hot. I was tired. I had let the day get the best of me.

And, so help me, if I make it through this race and get my BQ,  and then my running partner qualifies for Boston a few weeks later at her race, I'm definitely paying for the hotel room and dinner.

Because no way will I cross that line anywhere close to in time without her.

Send your ankle strengthening vibes my way!

Elaine