My Convertible Life

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Francis

My Lenten sacrifice was useful, but it didn't stick.

After Easter, as my husband and I talked about our impressions of the Episcopal church (based on our visits during Lent), we had plenty of good reasons to join -- and yet somehow neither of us seemed quite ready to let go of being Catholic.

So we decided to try a different Catholic church -- a Franciscan one this time, father from our house but closer to our personal philosophy. Still Catholic but somewhat separate from the hierarchy of the diocese, Franciscan priests tend to be less politically and socially conservative (and I just made a wildly sweeping generalization, so apologies to those more knowledgeable).

Anyway, on our first Sunday at this new Catholic church, the priest began the mass by welcoming everyone to the service. As he continued, welcoming visitors from other faiths, I braced myself for what I expected to be a polite churchy way of saying that those visitors would not be welcome at the altar during communion. It's a practice that I understand (because only Catholics believe in transubstantiation, so other faiths cannot receive communion), but one that always makes me cringe.

Instead, this is what he said: "If you are visiting us today from another faith, you enrich our service with your presence."


"You enrich our service with your presence." 

Wow -- didn't see that one coming. That one phrase, spoken so simply, set a completely different tone for the mass for me. Maybe it's because my grandmother never converted to my grandfather's Catholic faith -- through more than 50 years of marriage -- or maybe just because I have so many wonderful, spiritual friends who aren't Christian, much less Catholic. Whatever the reason, it was enough to open my clenched fist just enough to accept the sign of peace.

And so the search continues...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wanted: An Impossibly Perfect Student Assignment Plan

What's even more elusive than the Holy Grail, Big Foot and my abdominal muscles that never quite recovered from two c-sections?

A student assignment plan for Wake County that will make everyone happy all of the time.

This is not news. For those of you who are regular readers -- or who get trapped into conversations with me around town -- you've heard me soapbox about this before.

The problem is that so many things sound like good ideas in theory -- attending a school close to your house, having guaranteed feeder patterns to keep kids together from elementary through high school, getting to rank school choices based on your own preference, opening new schools with volunteers instead of reassigning students -- but they don't always work so well in practice.

What if the school closest to your house is horribly overcrowded? What if the guaranteed feeder patterns tracks your child to a high school you don't like? What if you don't like any of the choices available to you? What if no one picks the new school and it goes unused?

And then the real kicker for members of the school board is that (again, in theory) they can't just think about what's best for one or two kids -- they have to make decisions based on what's best for all kids and for the county as a whole (assuming, of course, that they're concerned about such things, which they probably are).

Last month, at a meeting that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, the Wake County Board of Education once again attempted to change course for how the district assigns its 150,000 students to the 165 schools across the county. In a move that may or may not have seemed like a political ambush, depending on your stance, the board majority (who happen to be Democrats on the non-partisan board) voted -- over the strenuous objections of the (Republican) minority that had made its own hostile and aggressive moves a couple years earlier -- to direct school system staff to develop a new plan.

For those of you who've lost track, that would be a new plan for 2013-14 to replace the plan that was new for 2012-13.


It's possible that the "new new" plan might just be a blend of the "old" plan and the "old new" plan or maybe a tweak of the "old new" plan -- I want to believe they're just trying to correct some of the bigger challenges instead of throwing the latest baby out with the bath water.

But even though I'm not a huge fan of the new plan -- a lack of base assignment tied to your address seems unsustainable and the lack of attention to diversity seems fiscally (if not socially) irresponsible -- I'm even less a fan of having a complete overhaul every two years following a school board election. And at the rate things are going, it's looking like we could be trapped in a two-year pendulum swing, with voters (and parents) continually frustrated on one end or the other.

I wish I had a solution -- or a magic wand -- but I don't. All I've got are some suggestions:
  1. To parents: Remember that the very element of the plan you love most might be the same piece that ruined another family's year. This stuff is complicated at best and impossible at worst, but no one on the school board or in central office is purposefully trying to mess with your family.
  2. To the district staff: If you're going to tie addresses to a base assignment, please do a thorough review of the existing node system first. When a one-block street with only 16 houses on it is split between two nodes with different school options, there's a problem.
  3. To the school board: Quit being Democrats and Republicans and start being representatives for public education that makes good sense. Be socially and fiscally responsible about implementing a plan that sets schools up for success and uses facilities wisely.
  4. To the students: Work hard and be nice to your teachers. While the school you attend can certainly make your life more (or less) challenging, it doesn't have to determine the results you get from your education.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

J-Fest 2012: How Big is 7?

A few months ago, we were looking at baby pictures of our kids with our kids -- a little trip down online memory lane, telling them stories to go along with the photographs -- when Junius suddenly burst into tears.

"I still want to be a baby," he sobbed. "I don't want to be big anymore."

The big cracking sound that followed was the sound of my heart breaking -- both for him, that he would be so sad about turning into such a wonderful big kid, and for me, because sometimes I wish he were still a baby too.

Since that night, we've been a little more careful to point out the advantages of being big (better food, the ability to read, not having to sit in poo). We've also tried to censor ourselves before we say things like "how did you get so tall?" or "don't grow up too fast!"

The truth is that watching your child grow up is about the craziest science experiment you can witness. When he's just a baby, no matter what Anne Lamott or Einstein might say, it's hard to imagine what he'll be like when he's 7, much less 17.

So for those of you who want to know what 7 (and parts of 6) look like, here's what Junius is doing that's different now from a year ago:

  1. The hand-holding days are mostly over. While this is somewhat practical -- it's easier for me to keep a handle on the Pip now that Junius can navigate parking lots and sidewalks on his own -- it still makes me incredibly sad. I love the loose-but-safe feeling of his little hand in mine, but now he just slips free nearly every time I try.
  2. Baby is optional -- and by Baby, I mean the small, white bear that he's slept with every night for the past six years and who he used to fake nurse when I was feeding Pippi. You can throw Blanket (with a capital B) in the same category. He still keeps Baby and Blanket in his bed and takes them on car trips -- but when I suggested he might want to put them in his bag for last weekend's sleepover birthday party at a friend's house, he looked at me incredulously and said, "No way, mom. That's for babies." And he slept just fine without them. And he stayed up until midnight playing at the party. Midnight.
  3. High dives are there to be conquered. Last week while visiting my parents, Junius decided to go off the high dive -- as in, climb the ladder 10+ feet in the air, stroll to the end of the diving board, jump off without hesitation, smack straight into a huge belly-flop (at which point I stifled a scream and raced walked calmly over to the edge of the pool), swim to the side and climb out like nothing had happened. Of course, about 5 minutes later, the cherry ice he'd eaten before the jump came right back up and landed on my foot. But other than that, the kid was unphased. I am still recovering.
  4. He can bargain with the Tooth Fairy. When he lost his front tooth earlier this month, he placed it under his pillow with a note that read, "May I have 5$ [sic] please?" He wrote this because a fifth-grader at his school said he'd asked for $10 and only got $5, so Junius interpreted that to be the Tooth Fairy's limit. And because he asked so politely, the Tooth Fairy totally fell for it.
  5. Seven hundred eighty-three pieces are not too many. He pooled the money he got for his birthday (including a "paycheck," as he called it, from his grandparents) and purchased the 783-piece LEGO police station. Then he proceeded to build the entire thing in less than a day with very limited assistance. Seven hundred eighty-three.
I realize that those of you with 10-year-olds or (gasp) teen-agers, this list sounds like small potatoes. But for those of you wondering when your kid will finally be old enough to wipe his own bottom? Just look at all the excitement still ahead!

Now I'm going to go work up a little cry over some baby photos while Junius is asleep...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

J-Fest 2012: Blog Post Retrospective

The ol' blog has suffered some in the past year -- every week seems busier than the last, with less and less time for writing. And sadly (at least for me and my interest in actually sitting still and posting), Junius's birthday week has been no exception.

Crazy when real life gets in the way of writing about my real life, huh?

So while I work on getting a few more J posts together, here are some of my favorites from his year of being 6:
  • Jan. 17, 2012: Watching Him Go
    Because I'm not sure I'll ever get used to watching him walk away from me, even though that's just what he's been doing since he learned to hold up his own head.
  • Dec. 5, 2011: Showing Your Work
    Because my boy is a (qualitative) genius. 
  • Nov. 14, 2011: Sign of Fall
    Because he's just so flippin' happy.
  • Nov. 3, 2011: A Warning about Halloween Masks
    Because I'm so glad his face isn't frozen like that.
  • Aug. 4, 2011: Big Teeth
    Because he might actually be a shark.

Monday, July 9, 2012

J-Fest 2012: Every Age He Ever Was

This is what happens when you blink:

That's my Junius -- from day one to yesterday, when he turned seven. When I look at that progression, it kind of makes my heart ache in ways I don't completely understand.

So instead of trying to find my own words, I'll give you Anne Lamott's instead. I read her Operating Instructions in the final days of my pregnancy and the early days of Juni's newborn chaos -- clutching and grasping at the story of her son's first year, relieved to know I was not alone and that it just might turn out to be worth it. 

Now Lamott's son, Sam, has become a father and together they've written a new book about her grandson's first year. His name is Jax -- he's unplanned, but welcomed with love. In Some Assembly Required, here's how Anne describes watching Sam hold Jax:
"My wild son, who like most boys smashed and bashed his way through childhood, with branches and bats and wooden swords, who shut down and pulled so far away as a teenager that sometimes I could not find him, now taking tender care of his own newborn, a miniature who is both unique and reflective. Sam is still every age he ever was, from the fetus to the infant to the adolescent to the father. And Einstein would probably say that Jax is already every age he will ever be, but in such super-slow motion relative to our limited perspective that we can't see the full spiral of him yet, only this tan bundle of perfect infanthood with a blue butt."
That's what happens when I look at Junius. I see the wiggly fetus and the snuggly baby and the chunky toddler and the smiley preschooler that he once was. And when the light is just right, I get a glimpse of the gangly teen and even the handsome man he will be.

And it just about melts my heart.