April 5, 2013
March 21, 2013
Here, in our quaint, historically well-preserved, gas lamp-lit borough, it ‘aint perfect.
Sometimes bad stuff happens which spawns books and movies. Our taxes are too high. The wind gusts through town, trees fall on houses, and two years in a row Halloween has been cancelled by mayoral decree.
In a preemptive move to eliminate the risk of enormous tree limbs piercing the kids’ bedroom windows in a future microburst, we took down a few ominous looking, poorly pruned, top-heavy, sappy, needle-dropping projectiles. Was it a tough decision for us to cut down a clump of mature white pines? Absolutely. Do we sleep better at night knowing our son is safe from being crushed in his sleep during the next superstorm? You betcha.
Granted, now our neighbors don’t speak to us. But I digress.
Our public school system from pre-K all the way through AP honors courses at the high school remains a target of those seeking perfection. I mentioned here that many in our town are up in arms about the “flawed” methodology currently in place to educate their gifted and talented children.
“Our kids are bored, unchallenged, they don’t like school, they feel singled out having to complete extra work outside the classroom, the G&T program’s idea of special projects is handing the kids worksheets to complete in the hallway,” they complain.
As well-intentioned as parents’ criticism and calls for change might be, the fact of the matter is our children are managed day in and day out by honest, hard-working, poorly paid professionals who, whether or not parents choose to acknowledge it, profoundly impact our future lacrosse-playing rocket scientists.
Case in point. Over the summer, and at the beginning of this school year, all my son wanted to do was play video games. Skylanders, Madden NFL, Wii Sports. He’d come home, finish his homework, then run down to the basement to wile away a few hours before dinner as he converted his brain to mush.
I am happy to report those days are over. Or, at least, they’ve been waylaid by books.
Thanks to an inspiring third-grade teacher, and a few well-recommended Percy Jackson novels, a whole new world has opened up to the kid. I can barely get a word out of him at breakfast these days with his nose permanently inserted between the pages of the next Alex Ryder novel. He’s now explaining the back story of Arachne and Athena to me whilst taking in Spiderman on Broadway a few weeks ago.
Exhibit A: Day 1. The boy’s writing sample from Mr. White’s third-grade class.
Exhibit B: Six months later. The boy’s writing sample from Mr. White’s third-grade class.
Regarding our imperfect school system, it’s quite easy to pick out the flaws, regurgitate the perceived problems, reiterate the complaints of the masses. Instead of complaining, we must pinpoint and build upon successes, acknowledge growth and advancement, and relay how our children’s lives have been transformed by inspired teaching.
Thanks to you, we now have a son who loves to read and write.
Thanks to you, we now have a son who points out every simile and metaphor when we have our nightly reading tuck-ins.
Thanks to you, we now have a son who reads with a dictionary by his side, and strives to log 300 minutes per day in his reading journal.
Mr. White, thank you for placing the tools in front of our son, for encouraging him to build a foundation, and for nurturing his curiosity.
P.S. If that ‘aint perfection, I’m not sure what is.
March 18, 2013
While reading Unstoppable by Tim Green, a tale of grit, determination, love, illness, loss, hope, and football, I leaned over to my eight-year old concerned that the nine-to-ten-year old reading level and subject matter might be a little too advanced for him…
“Is this getting too heavy for you bud?” I asked.
His reply: “You’re the one crying. And you’re 40-something!”
March 2, 2013
March 2, 2013
March 2, 2013
January 10, 2013
December 23, 2012
On paper, Junior’s seemed the perfect complement to a jaunt with the boys over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the artisanal Nets in their Jay Z-inspired new digs, a far cry from their swampy arena of yesteryear, now nearly forgotten, like Kris and Kim’s Kwikee Knuptials.
Everyone recognizes the restaurant’s name, but no one remembers exactly why, nor for what they are famous. Egg creams? Cheesecake? Reuben sandwiches?
Any discussion of Junior’s has my in-laws waxing poetic. Was it the site of their first date? Proposal? First kiss? All of this and my rosy, fairy dust-infused glasses had me hankering for a hunk of Junior’s deli-icious history.
We giddily entered the landmark establishment only to rapidly deflate upon taking in the throngs of people and noisy din. We could have done without the 30-minute wait for someone to take our order. They must have felt badly, though, because they turned our lunch order for four into food for twelve. Our 15-pound plates loaded to the hilt with three-inch thick beets and a side of cholesterol left us wanting for less.
(The food they must throw out!)
My Reuben wasn’t so bad, but the six-inch vertical on that bad boy rendered my palate a bloody mess. Thankfully we had enough bread to soak up my arterial discharge and still feed an Ethiopian family for a year.
Sy Applebaum, we did your Brooklyn proud. We lined our bellies with Junior’s signature grease. We cheered on your Nets in their three-point victory over the Sixers. We warmed your seats until your return. And, hopefully, we dragged a little of that cool Brooktown flavor back over the bridge to Joisey.
(Or, maybe it was just reflux.)
November 6, 2012
“Are you Italian? Russian?”
It was a simple, sincere question, asked by a color-blind child, in a modest, dark apartment situated just shy of the Harlem border…
I smiled inside.
We had just delivered Passover-themed groceries to this elderly woman’s home as part of our Dorot volunteer elder outreach visit, and the question was asked by one of my young companions oblivious to the color and ethnicity of this kind, dark-skinned woman who seemed to be seated on a throne, appearing enormous and powerful, with a commanding voice and captivating smile.
The girl inquired about her ethnicity after politely listening to this woman’s intriguing tale about having grown up in upstate New York in the town where Harriet Tubman is buried, where the local prison loomed over her, immense and nearly blocking out the sun, and inspired awe in her as a child. She told us you could see the cemetery where Ms. Tubman is buried from her house. That is where the kids used to play, on fields that eventually were converted to grave sites.
Motioning to a picture above her desk of several people laughing with President Obama, she spoke fondly about the president and how her niece had worked for him. She mentioned she was married more than once, and pointed to the picture of the now-deceased father of her four boys who make her so proud. (It’s OK that he’s dead, she winked at me.) Her second husband was Jewish, a much nicer man, and during their marriage she had been to a number of seders and counted many Jewish friends among her network of acquaintances. She boasted about her 26 grandchildren, and again about the four sons that give her so much pride.
Her eyes sparkled when she told us about the dress she was having designed for the Imperial Court Costume Ball. She would wear golden gloves and a sea-foam taffeta gown. She relished getting all dolled up and holding court with her “royal” friends.
In that cramped, dimly lit apartment, donated to her by Dorot, she spoke about how the organization had helped her during tough times, found her the apartment, lent her couches, and how at first she had refused to move above 58th St. where she had lived 17 years in a beautiful flat with 10-foot high ceilings and a fireplace. Despite its gloomy feel, what had drawn her to this apartment was the light–for 15 minutes each day, a sliver of sunlight passes through the kitchen window, beneath which she has arranged several colored pieces of glass, causing them to magically shimmer for a brief moment each afternoon.
She told us she was a singer. After some gentle coaxing, she sang “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and “This Little Light of Mine” to the girls.
She gave the girls advice: “Good, better, best; never let it rest ’til your good is better and your better is best.” And when she discovered the girls were Girl Scouts, she told them, “Trust, be good, love yourself. There is no success until you love yourself and feel confident about and know who you are.”
She offered the girls chocolate. I marveled at her generosity of spirit and possessions, despite having so little herself.
She told us then how much she appreciated the volunteer visits and conversations that ensued.
…when that question was asked, I smiled inside, having glimpsed in that instant, like the fleeting light on colored glass, a twinkle of open-mindedness, ignorance of skin color, acceptance of cultural differences, zero racial bias.
October 4, 2012
“I know a way to make earthquakes fun,” my daughter said on the way to school today. “When the ground shakes, you can pretend the earth is dancing salsa.”