I believe… I was… Christine

Though it wasn’t someone I knew.  But, while listening to her vulnerable, shaking voiced testimony this morning an incident where I was pinned by a man when I was 13 came flooding back.   

I grew up in Los Angeles.  It was the Fall of 1979.  I went to a progressive public school located on Robertson Blvd next to Hamilton High School.  WE were a magnet.  We had open campus privileges.  Now, if I walked as far as Fred’s Bakery to get a cheese bagel for lunch, which we often did, things were fine.  But, it was kind of known that if you went further the street felt more dangerous.  But, one day my friend and I wanted to eat something different so we walked the Taco Bell.  It did feel less safe than Fred’s Bagels.    We looked at the menu and both decided we didn’t want to eat there.   

about 6 months after the incident. Working as a dancer/ actor at the Renaissance Faire in Agoura.

I only half noticed these noisy guys who had come in.   I cannot tell you anything about one of the guys.  But, the one that is in my head was white, had longish sandy blonde hair, not the clearest skin, but not ugly.  Light colored shirt.  They were talking loudly.  Maybe they were already singing.  Like they were high or drunk.  My friend and I walked towards the exit.  We were passing them.  The blonde guy pinned us against the wall. He was singing then has he ambushed us. It happened very fast.  His arms were over us, but not touching. his hands on either side of us.  He leaned in so close to me I could smell his warm breath.  He was singing “Good girls don’t, good girls don’t, but I do.” The Knack song.  I had never heard it before then.  Now, here is the funny thing about human responses in a crisis.    I was a mouthy, wise cracker then ( as now).  My friend was quiet, soft.  But, in that moment I was frozen.  I was terrified and didn’t know what to do.  My gentle friend on the other hand, did.  She grabbed my hand and broke hard against his arm and ran dragging me behind her.   Once she bolted, I thought, oh, yeah , run.  But, had I been alone, I don’t know if and when that would have ever kicked in.   That’s why when people say, well, why didn’t so and so do this or that I think STFU, you have no idea how you will react.  I want to think I’ll be like the Rock in a movie, but I doubt 

We ran all the back down Robertson to our campus.  When we got there students were hanging out on our tiny patch of asphalt.  I remember us telling a few of them, “oh, this creepy guy grabbed us…”  But, I don’t recall having “Let’s go tell the teachers.  Let’s call the police” thoughts.  I was shaken and grossed out.  I was embarrassed we had gone all the way to Taco Bell.  Which some people did comment on.. “oh, you can’t go that far down the street”

Life went on.  I had been out of touch with that friend, but a few years ago we reconnected.  We enjoy going to drink wine or have dinner.   I said something about that icky neighborhood we went to school in.  “oh, we bought our house near there.”  She said, not thinking in it icky at all.

“Oh, I’m sure it has changed”  I said, not wanting to insult her neighborhood

One night I said to her, “I really want to thank you for being so brave and grabbing my hand that day in the Taco Bell when they gross guy cornered us.  I was frozen with fear.”

She had NO IDEA what I was talking about.   She didn’t remember it at all. 

Does that mean it didn’t happen?  No.  But, if that guy who sang the Knack song was up for a Supreme Court Seat and I told my story would I be believed?  But, I know it happened.  I also know that when I hear that song ..almost 30 years later, I feel like I’m going to throw up.

Garden Camp

IMG_0098

crafts hung on the tree

We aren’t big camp people.  I never went to overnight camp because my parents were afraid of child molesters and mosquito bites.  Vivien has given me the evil eye, “I’m so not happy with you mommy” stare when I’ve pushed her to go to camp.  The big assemblies and rah, rah, “We are the Mighty Turtles!” cheers shut her down.  While I see a fun day of crafts, and waterplay she sees an over earnest intrusion into her psyche.  Both can be correct.

great camps for kids in LA

popsicles made from the garden

But, last year a friend told us about the  garden camp.  It combined two of my favorite things: nature and old parts of LA that posers who live in Brentwood or dine on Sunset blvd wouldn’t be caught dead in.  Correction, they don’t even know these areas exist.  You see The Garden School Foundation started about 11 years ago to educate Title 1 kids (ie, low income) kids about nature, nutrition, and wearing floppy sunhats.  In the West Adams district of LA, an area famous for beautiful Craftsman homes and the evisceration of LA’s upper class African Americans when the 10 freeway plowed through it’s neighborhood in the 1960’s, sits the 24th street school.  A typical LA unified asphalt covered elementary school.  But, there is a hidden part!  A big one.  A 2 acre garden in the back of the school that abuts the 10 freeway. It is an oasis in the urban jungle.  A drink of water in a concrete desert.  A snow ball in the desert.

There are sweet garden teachers who show the kids how to make humus with a blender powered by a bicycle, how to grow kale and make art with beans..and glue and stuff.

One of my favorite things to this burnt out mom is that you do NOT send them with snack or lunch.  They eat from the garden.  My kids ate salad every day and liked it.  They came home excited to try recipes.   Rex has tried to make a few things since he went.  Do I have to spend 30 minutes cleaning after he does so?  Yes, but at least he is trying!

sweet garden teacher

sweet garden teacher

Vivien even liked it because the groups were small, there was no assembly or cheering. Plus they are OUTSIDE all day.  OUTSIDE around pretty green things, not the outside of their school in Hollywood with homeless, smells of pot and obnoxious billboards.

“I wish school was like this” said Rex.  I wish life was like this.  I could sit in that meandering, folk art strewn garden for hours, even if the hum of the 10 murmurs nearby.

City kids need any bit of nature they can get.

back to school photo

Of course I’m going to post a picture of my kids going back to school.

Rex 1st grade!

Vivien 5th grade.. hate how that is the last year of elementary school now.

I’m glad I will able to work uninterrupted and go to a couple of yoga classes, but the return of frantic time is not great.  I like sleeping in till 8am with Rex snuggling next to me.  Not the frantic dash and the battle over lunch.

“I’m making you the ham sandwich you liked last week.”

“I don’t want it”

“I can make you the pasta you liked?”

” I don’t want that”

“Then you are having hot lunch”

“what is it?”

” pizza”

” I don’t want it.”

I have warned them this year, tough, if you don’t like the first choice I give you eat hot lunch and deal with it.  I like the lunch fine.  Way better than when I was in school pealing back the foil top, steamy something up my nose.

So yeah, I love seeing everyone’s kids in their back to school best and seeing how much bigger they are.  But, parent’s need their own back to school pic.

So, here is my back to school pic.moms back to school

 

“We are going to be late, hurry up,  I don’t want to get a tardy,  Cody got out.  Rex, find your shoes!  Vivien you are lollygagging.”

 

What would yours look like??

#IalreadyMissSummer

potluck ransom

I love pot lucks.  I like hosting pot lucks. However,  rules must be observed.  Put your name on your stuff.  I can’t run everyone down

” did you leave the powder blue bowl?  The Winnie the pooh platter?  The silver pan?  Were you even here?”

I’m fine with hosting class parties.  I like to.  If not we end up in some gross LA city park with porta potties and bums sleeping next to the kids while they play capture the flag.  I don’t mind the set up, clean up.  We have a big backyard.  I just want people to take their shit with them when they leave.  The one night stand is over, get your crap and get out.  You never wanted to hear from that dude at the club you bedded after a few too many did you?  No, I don’t even remember his name.  But, he kept calling me “lips.”

After grilling our room teachers with the rules before our class party what happens?  One room parent has been emailing me about her serving spoon.  More than once.  I would have prefered if she had just shown up at my door and said “do you mind if I rifle through your kitchen and see if I can find over grown spork?”

She is a nice person, so I finally did hunt around for it after the last email.  I thought I would add a little drama into this potluck tension.  I sent her the following:

“Today’s newspaper let’s you know your spoon is alive as of today.  But, if you don’t follow my instructions it is in danger.”

potluck ransomeI should have told her that she needed to drop of a entrée that would feed ten if she ever wanted to see her spoon again.  No vegi platter.  No one ever eats the raw cauliflower.

But, instead this morning I handed to the other room parent and said, “your girl wants me to put this in her kid’s cubby.  I’m not even sure who her kid is let alone run her cubby.”

She got it.  “She didn’t put her name on it like you asked?  I’ll take care of it.”  Later I saw her leaving a message on her cell phone, “Hey, I’ve got your crummy spoon what do you want me to do with it?”

It’s still better we hosted.  If you leave something in the park, would it be there if you went back? Would you still want it?

 

Hold me I’m frightened…

Rex started kindergarten.  I was surprised by my reaction.  Felt fine.  Till we crossed the threshold of the campus that was filled the chaos and crowds of Kuala Lumpur right before the Japanese approached. Then I wanted to cry.  Sob.  My tough boy was gripping my hand as I said my hellos.  I kept indicating without words how I felt so as not to upset Rex. ( Finger from corner of eye down, tear).

on the way to school.  Support from his sister

on the way to school. Support from his sister

At one point a nice mom spoke to me about something unrelated.  I nodded politely, but she might as well have had burning hair on her head as I couldn’t make out what she said.  “I’m in CRISIS right now”  I thought.

The last few days he had been saying “I want to stay in pre school.”  I can’t say the truth.  I do too. You are right.  It’s all down hill from here.  Until you get your drivers license and feel someone up sexually.

Happily They only have half days for the start.  So I took him out to celebrate.  Sweets, natch.  cupcakes

I was squeezing the last bit of summer I could out of this truncated season.  I do not believe it is right that children begin school before Congress is back in session. Totally messed up.  So, now that Labor day is no longer sacred we traveled till the 11th hour.  We spent the last 10 days glamping it through California.  A family reunion with American and Dutch family was like a dream commune existence, but with continental breakfast.  Kids jumped out of bed to safely play with extended cousins while we slept in and leisurely made some coffee before we hiked, swam, drank beer.

a few of us who discovered some vineyards

a few of us who discovered some vineyards

" eat this, my dad's a chef

” eat this, my dad’s a chef

in case Mark and I lost each other, we had name tags.

in case Mark and I lost each other, we had name tags.

 

Off to my family’s annual pilgrimage to Yosemite.  I love it so.

Rex finds his own perch

Rex finds his own perch

That $600 in swim lessons paid off.  First summer with out a float vest.

always somewhere to climb

always somewhere to climb

Side bar,  one interesting thing I noticed in Yosemite this year.. no, not low water, brown grass and over priced bland food, I expected that, but there were so many foreigners.  I don’t mean to sound Archie Bunker, and I know it’s  a world wide destination, but there were more Europeans there than any year I can remember.  I offered to take photos for so many German tourists I was afraid the French and British visitors would brand me as a collaborator.  Later when we were at the Lodge in the valley a French woman was complaining to the hostess at the Mountain Room Broiler ( they call it grill, but whatever it was called in 1978 is what I call it) Oh, I’m from Culver City and I know it’s not great.  If you were from France, oy!  I had to interject.  “It’s not good, no where around here is going to be good.”  The hostess smiled, while French lady looked unbelieving.  I found her husband outside, “I just talked to your wife.  Tell her we all know the food is not very good in the park.” Blank face.  I should have just offered to take their picture.

Rex loves the cafeteria there.  He calls it the “Room with all the food.”  Me:” the cafeteria?”  ie, that dump?  “Yes, mommy I love it!”

We played in the river.  We saw deer. deer in yosemiteyosemite with kids

Rex ran naked through the fields and woods. I brought my wine, so it was all good to me. I got no cell reception–yippiee!  That’s living.

One day we went to the pioneer village and watched a Blacksmith work. kids and blacksmitth I have rarely seen my kids so fascinated and focused on the 3 dimensional world.  I didn’t prattle on about my love of Laura Ingalls Wilder, just in my inner voice.stagecoachWhen I take the winding road in or out of Yosemite I marvel at the people of yore who came there on horseback and coach.  10 minutes in a stage coach and I needed a kidney transplant.  How did they do it?  When we left I offered to take my kids to the Mariposa Grove to see the big redwoods.  Rex has been talking about big trees for two years since we went through a deep forest near the Oregon border.  “NO”  They screamed.  They were worn out.

45 minutes later.  “You guys let’s say we get lunch in Fresno and go back to school shopping.”  The back seat cheered.  I cheered to be in a smaller scale city with a Macy’s I could practically park in front of the door, everything was on sale and they called me ma’m.  Big city living can be tasking, nice to be in  a medium market.

So, we are the brink of day 2 of Kinder.  “How was it Rex?”

“Horrible and sort of awesome.”  I told Mark that Rex said he is afraid of not having friends.  Mark looked up, ” I’m still worried about that.”  I think that’s why it does choke me up.  We all feel uneasy going into a new space, new people, but as we age we learn to shove the feelings down, or mask them.  But, we know our little ones are still open, vulnerable.  Will he be ok?  Probably.  But, it’s also the beginning of me not being able to fix things in his life.  The separating.  My heart breaks a little. Wish we could get back on the road where I feel somewhat in control.

 

Accelerated Math Summer

Was on the fence about pushing Viv into this… but once we got going it’s like going halfway around a lake, you got to finish it!  It’s been a chore for all involved.

I’m not sure, is math harder now, or is did I have such an alternative education that I was at Bette Davis double feature when this stuff was being taught?

almost at the end...

almost at the end…

stop me before I volunteer, again

 

I think I have a problem.

I can’t stop volunteering.

A few months ago I was elected head of my neighborhood association.  10 Saturdays out of the year I run the meetings, bring the refreshments and in general voice the concerns of our community to the city.  So far I threw a block party, longwood block partyhelped get some trees planted, advocated for some issues with our local councilmanherb wesson with constituents , and got a website up.

The jewel in my unpaid work history was my mayoral appointment to the Central Area Planning Committee.  Roughly twice a month I am one vote on planning issues that come before us.  I get to go to city hall and I have a laminated pass.  Never has anyone felt so excited to be accepted as a civil servant. Maybe because of all the years of freelancing, I like going to an important building with a clip on badge and working.. albeit with no salary.commissioner Brogdon

I’m also on a few committee’s for my daughter’s school. ( charter, underfunded).  So I take some interest in the school board races.  There are few that do.  It’s pretty un sexy, but in LA we have a mammoth school district and unlike other cities the mayor and the council have no control over them.  So, it’s a whole other empire.  Charter’s, while somewhat apart from regular public schools, still must be granted their charter through the school district.  So, the LA school board is “our” school board as well.   Teacher’s unions tend to not like charters because the teacher’s are outside of the union.  Charter’s are suspicious of teacher’s unions and afraid they will try to shut them down.

My take on all this is that parent’s are discerning consumers of education.  So, charter’s magnets, traditional, private they will be existing with each other. But, we need to put our best foot forward. There are people in our area who would be interested in going to the local public school, but they don’t offer tours.  “Why?’  is what we have heard more than once when calling the school…that sound you here is the interested parent filling out an application for a charter lottery. No surprise, it’s under enrolled.  A mile away a traditional public school does do tours and shows itself well. That school is humming along.

So,  heard some charter parents were rally around one candidate in a special election to be held August 12th.  Good lord, the only thing lamer than having a special election in the dog days of summer would be starting school that day.  OH, that is what LA unified is doing.   I spoke to some of my political mentors about one candidate, George McKenna.  He is a retired teacher and administrator.  Years ago they made a “Stand and Deliver” type movie about his work turning around a tough school starring Denzel Washington.  A friend set up a lunch for us to meet and I went, even though he looks nothing like Denzel.  While not a movie star, I found a charming Southern man who was very thoughtful and earnest about helping children.  Before I could order an ice tea he was talking about trying to get mental health services to students in LA schools who come from troubled places.  It was one of the concerns that reminded me of how vast the LA school system is. By the way since I was a kid I have thought the district should be broken up, but fat chance of that happening.   But, what can happen is for the grip to be loosened a bit on school so that a school can cater to their particular community.  This was something Mckenna and I agreed on. Well, we agreed on quite a bit.  From the good deviled egg appetizer to how a lousy principal can sink a school.

I told him, look the charter’s are scared of you.  He didn’t know why.  “I’ve gone on record as saying if a local school is working, charters wouldn’t exist”.  He was surprised the Teacher’s union backed him because of this.  He believes in traditional, charters, magnets, whatever works for children, not one ideology. I was touched by his sincerity and persuaded by his intellect and experience. He is being outspent. “Can Denzel give you some money?”

“I don’t know how to get to him.” he said.

So, before my after lunch espresso arrived I volunteered AGAIN.

“George, maybe I can throw you an event.” My dear husband was eager to hear about my lunch.  Later we attended a political meeting that a neighbor of ours had invited us too.  On the way out he met George.  The candidate was walking by himself having just thanked the group we were attending for their support and was on to the next.

“You need to go to 5 events a day.” Mark said earnestly.

“I wish it was only 5.” George said in his honey dripping accent.

We walked away and Mark said, “Let’s do grilled cheese.”  He was totally on board.  We must have done at least 3 grilled cheese events for Garcetti.  Now that the famous Thursday grilled cheese nights at Campanile are gone for good, it might be a bit of a draw for folks.  Former council members Nate Holden and Jan Perry who are my friends are also hosting.george mckenna fundraiser

The story has been picked up by a local online publication.  Come by if you care about educating the young, or just want to eat.  Don’t make my volunteering in vain!

 

 

 

The Graduate

preschool graduationMy last baby has graduated from pre school. It was a lovely affair held in our back yard.  He had been at the school for nearly 3 years.  The hat wasn’t part of the ceremony, but dang it, I wanted to see one on his head so I ordered it up.graduation party for kids

I was part of the planning, which was a piece of cake compared to what I was doing the next day, spearheading our neighborhood block party.  We had a great taco vendor I knew provide the food.  I didn’t want anyone to worry about bringing a dish.  We set up a little amphitheater in the deeper part of my yard.

home party for pre schoolersWe asked parents to bring blankets to sit on and collected pictures of the kids through the years they had been together and hung them on string with cloths pins.  I cannot take credit for this idea, but it is one to steal.

preschool graduation

school guinea pig is in the cage

The kids marched in from behind the little chairs singing with their teachers Dewi and Douglas the chorus to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate”.  We sang with them. Dewi has been with Rex since he was 2 and half. That’s a heartfelt hug. When it was Rex’s turn to get his diploma I delighted in not only his accomplishment, but at how happy his friends were to see him go up and get hugs from the teachers and get his honor. He also got the book they had been keeping on him while he was there.  When his teacher spoke about working with the kids she teared up and I cried enough to make a bit of sound.pre school record

The kids played, adults drank wine, we had an ice cream truck.  Couldn’t have been better.

Though it’s a sweet little school it’s an unattractive semi industrial area of Hollywood.  It always a challenge to park as big swaths of the street are designated commerical loading for the production companies.  It has been an ongoing battle and I thought we had made head way with hour Councilman that we need Green zone, that gives you 10 to 15 minutes to drop off.  We also had a parking officer who let up on us this last year.  One can’t drop off little kids casually.  There is also an abandoned yard next to it ( Thanks to the DWP who own it and have left it to rot)  Though in the the course of their schooling the kids and teachers took little walking field trips and found the cool bits in the neighborhood.  Then the kids photographed their favorite thing.  Quite rightly my son took a picture of a fireman. That’s my boy. So, it wasn’t in rolling hills, it was ok.

after one year of preschool

after one year of preschool

On Monday they had a last half day.  When I picked him up I gave out hugs and presents to his teachers.  This was it.  I wouldn’t ever be a pre school mom again.  Door shut.  It’s a sweet time of life and I’m glad I got to experience it again through my kids.  I appreciated more with them then I did in my own time.  Which is why I think Rex is so wise to see it’s value now.  As we drove to a play space that a smart mom had set up for us to meet and have a pizza party Rex shared this:

“Momma,  I’m sad.  I want to stay in preschool for the rest of my life and play with my friends.”

I understand, I said.  I didn’t say.  It doesn’t get better.  This is the most carefree you’ll ever be in your life.  You are right to be sad about this passing moment. In a few years, more of life’s detris will come crashing on you, play while you can my son!

Then I dabbed away my tears with the parking ticket I had just gotten for parking in a commercial loading zone near his school.  Maybe, after all, I was ready to move on.

out of sync

As so often happens in my life.  I’m out of sync.  I’ve been working for my chosen mayoral candidate like I’m getting paid, I’m encouraging voters like, I dunno, it’s a right people have DIED for and then I see this:  Only 16% of LA voters voted.  It’s not just the mayors race I was keen on.  The school board race is darn important and a battle between entrenched LAUSD ( a behemoth) and parental choice.  Comic and former co worker John Fugelsang recently twittered “If you supported the Iraq War you don’t have a right to complain about the deficit.” Here, here. If you live in LA  and you complain about city services, pot holes, the schools, and you didn’t vote SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE.

Don’t tell me candidates don’t talk about what they would really do to solve problems.  Yes, they do.  I was front and center, and not looking that good, the day after the election.

from LA Daily News

Eric Garcetti came in first, but didn’t get 50% of the vote so he and Wendy Greuel now have a run off for May 21st.  Sure, he starts with general campaign stuff, but then did get into specifics  ( I’m sure it’s the same for all the candidates).  On TV that night they only showed a quick clip of him saying something general.

Do parents understand that the school board makes choices that directly affect their children’s schools? That even if you don’t have children you have a stake in how our future generations are educated? In other cities they must.  Chicago has 48% for city elections.  One of my picks was defeated, one won and the other Antonio Sanchez is in a run off.  I do not live in his district, but I still go and hear him speak and wrote a little check for the dude and while I did I yammered on about changes I wanted to see to the school system.  Do you think they listen to people who don’t show up, knock on doors or write checks ( not Bloomberg money here, probably enough to get some subs for hungry volunteers)?  Why would they?

In this country people have died trying to vote.  In other countries they still do.  It’s your responsibility to be educated about the issues and the politicians.   If candidates seem to have a narrow scope it could because they are targeting the handful of people who come out to vote, unions and old people.

In LA everyone else is too busy complaining about the pizza and pining for snow.  Be where you are, live where you live.

 

This is why you should cook for people

So few people cook that if you do they will think you are a rock star.

They will talk about how good your cooking is.

Especially if it’s a pot luck.

Rex’s school said they were doing a community night. Now, none of us parents really understood what that was.  I had been cajoling the room parent ( a dad, thankfully who gets acerbic humor) that we needed  a wine night for the parents to bond.  I’ve been down this road and after pre school the parents aren’t as much fun.  Let’s hang out while we still like each other.  But, this community night threw off our planned wine-o night.  Well, that’s okay, I’m sure it’s a chance for them to tell us how genius our kids are when they finger paint or some profound reflection about blocks.  Don’t we all want to hear that stuff? So we all trekked into the teeny, tiny classroom per instructed and brought something to eat or drink, per instructions.  I made a savory tart.

However, it was really a wine-o night in a teeny, tiny preschool room with teeny tiny seats.  One of the teachers was there, but there was no slide show about development or where they were going to go to college.  The parents are a great bunch and we did all enjoy the gab, but it would have BETTER to have been in full sized chairs. Also, there were only a few bottles of red wine brought ( my kingdom for a dry white) and when one latecomer brought in a  bottle after all the others had been drained, the opener had vanished.  I snuck into another group of captive parents to grab theirs. 

I hurt for them.  They were in the teeny tiny chairs IN A CIRCLE. No chance for sex jokes in that set up. They looked glum.  I ran back to my room.  “Ha, ha, the Dolphin room ( names changed to protect the innocent) is in a circle”

“suckers”  jeered one dad. As I tore into the last remaining bottle.  Back off I yelled, in my head, it’s all for me!

So, the other issue is the FOOD.  One other mom made meatballs, good choice.  There was a cheese plate on a dish that wasn’t level, so when you went to the cut the cheese (no fart joke intended) it kept flopping over.  There was a couple of other things in PACKAGES.  In some cases, not out of their packages. How appetizing. No one touched them.

I made an inadequate savory tart.  Ricotta cheese, some spices, carmelized onions on puff pastry.  I had high hopes for it, but it was a bit on the dry side.  I have done better in the past.  But, people like it, because so few people cook.  People don’t even know what home made food looks like anymore.

I could get evangelical, but instead I’m going back to the drawing board for my savory tart.

The morale of the story is: cook for people, they appreciate it and drinking is more fun in an area where your kids don’t nap.