May 16, 2011

a stone's throw

Not too far from where I live is an inner-city elementary school that I visit once a week. The school district is in academic emergency with a graduation rate of 58% for the 2009-2010 school year. The neighborhood around the school is best described as modern urban blight and decay. About half the houses are boarded up; the others have overgrown yards and rubbish strewn about. The sidewalks are heaved and broken.

I'm part of a program that goes into the classrooms and helps the children learn about working in communities and begin career planning at a very young age. The idea is to encourage and nurture ambition and goals for the future. It's a very well received program.

My most recent assignment is two combined classes of 30 first graders. They are in so many ways typical children; smiley, happy, wiggly, excited. This past week was no exception. Spending the morning with them always lifts my spirits for the day. Last week, it also gave me something to think about that hasn't left me alone.

Our lesson was about jobs people in our families do and part of the lesson involved creating a classroom job book. We talked about different things people we knew did for a living. As the students shared the sort of jobs their families do, I heard such examples as:

The Dollar Store
Mowing Lawns
Subway Sandwich Maker
WalMart cashier
and, repeatedly,

One of the only college educated people these children encounter in their journey is their teacher. I asked the kids if they had to go to school to get these jobs they mentioned, and for every job, they understood that you did have to go to school. One little girl earnestly explained to me that her mommy had to go to work an hour early every day for a whole week to learn how to make the fries and put the sandwiches together. They share stories about how their folks work two jobs and they help care for their smaller siblings. Many of them are single parent homes but have many people in their homes with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents together.

In an era when teachers are regularly disparaged, it seems to me that we ask quite a bit from our educators. These thirty little people have dreams, too. The first step to fulfilling those dreams is a good role model. While their parents are honest hard working folks, retail or fast food job will not ever take them out of their blighted neighborhood. A teacher is their beacon of light to a different world.  

photo courtesy of Inmagine
This school is less than a 10 minute drive away from my very tall, but not insurmountable, picket fence. The neighborhood is only a stone’s throw away. Maybe that stone doesn’t need to be thrown at windows, but instead can be used to measure distance. It’s not too far away from any of us. Getting closer keeps those arms from throwing stones and instead reaches out. A little one on one encouragement may be the difference between learning to make fries and learning to change lives.  

Thank you to all the teachers who make a difference every day. 

May 4, 2011

The First Official Mean Mom Contest

Dear Friends, Readers, and fellow Mothers:

First, I must declare that Procrastination Rocks! I had intended to post this two weeks before Mother's Day, when life intruded. However, since I also believe that mothers are entitled to way more than one day, I am declaring May MOTHER'S MONTH. Yes, you read that right. I am allowed to do that because, oh yeah, I own this space and I can do whatever I want. So I am giving us the rest of the month.

I have written in the past about this unpublicized Mean Mom contest. I never publicized it in the past, but rather self-anointed and proclaimed the award mine. I selfishly kept the honor for myself. I am the reigning Mean Mom. I have a tiara and scepter to prove it, in the world where the sky is not blue. (The tiara and scepter actually are a hair scrunchie and mop... it's called artistic license). I also have a loyal steed. Otherwise known as the canine who I walk, feed, and neatly package his droppings after I pick them up. Yes, life is good when you're the reigning Mean Mom.

How did I get this incredible honor, you ask? Practice. Fifteen-point-five years of practice. The day spawn number one was born, I began training for this honor. I fully accepted the title around the time aforementioned spawn reached first grade. The transition from trainee to award winning Mean Mom was seamless. I simply told my daughter that I didn't care if it was vacation, she still had to brush her teeth. I have continued my meanness through the years, but that first moment of mean will remain cherished. I knew I had arrived.

I realize how effortless it appears. But I suspect I'm not the only Mean Mom out there. I think I have comrades. I am inviting you to step forward  and share why you also are a Mean Mom.

Because I feel that no Mean deed should go unrewarded, I am offering a prize to the mom who wrestles the award away from my clenched fist. You not only will receive the Mean Mom of 2011 award, but I also will give you a a percentage of my earnings from the Mean Mom stipend. You too will receive an unlimited supply of "rolling eyes" "whatevers" "under the breath mutterings" AND...

A $20 Groupon gift certificate to patronize a local business in your area. Groupon offers daily deals on salons, restaurants, and other businesses at a tremendous discount.

If you're not a Groupon member, it's easy to sign up, and it's easy to find deals by zipcode. As a disclosure, I am a Groupon affiliate. I believe in their mission because I work hard to keep my consumer dollars in the local community. This award is a win/win. You will get a lot for your $20 and help your local economy.

To enter the Mean Mom of 2011 contest, I ask you to submit a comment (link to your own blog if you wish or share your story in the comments) about why you should dethrone me as reigning Mean Mom. I will choose the winner on the last day of May, 2011. You should alert me to your brand of Mean before the month is over in a comment here on the blog. Since I'm Mean, I can make the rules. My Mean isn't just for the kids, it's for my readers, as well. I must keep my tool sharp. So follow the rules, tell me why you're more Mean than me, and I'll send you $20 to use on a Groupon deal.


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