The Brody Bunch – Random Acts of Kindness in Coupons, Raspberries, & Spare Change, taking it into 2019

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The Kindness Department is Open Indefinitely

Winter Break is already going well in the kindness department.  Carrying a few moments from the end of this year into the New Year with the reminder that it is better to give than to receive and my children were there to bare witness.

Goodwill – Giving Good Will

We often donate to Goodwill and receive coupons for future purchases with our tax deduction receipt.  I had several coupons which expire at the end of the year.  My daughter and I walked around a Goodwill store and found people with a lot of items in their shopping carts or buying Christmas presents for their kids and handed out our coupons.  People smiled from ear to ear.  One lady hugged me and wished me a Merry Christmas.  Twenty percent on off on the coupon felt like a million dollars to my heart.

Sharing Raspberries

I bought my son a container of raspberries at the Farmer’s Market.  We were leaving and the farmer whistled. I turned around and she nodded for me to take the other container of raspberries.  My son and I were walking around with our raspberries and we saw a hungry man asking for money for something to eat.  My son suggested that I give him the raspberries.  I told the man that I do not give money, but I am happy to give raspberries.  Literally paying it forward from the farmer, to me, to this man.  He told me nicely that he doesn’t like raspberries.  I admitted that these were not the best raspberries because they are out of season, but it is better than nothing to eat.  He wanted to know if they were sweet.  I asked him if he wanted to taste a raspberry and then make a better decision.  He smiled.  I took off my glove and gave him a raspberry.  The man concurred that the raspberries didn’t taste good.  He likes them sweeter.  I told him a joke.  And he told me that he was happy that I let him try one and then this big man swooped in and gave me a huge hug and wished me a Merry Christmas.  It was a feel good moment of all sorts.

The Street Musician Playing “Jingle Bells”

While still at the Farmer’s Market, we could hear a musician performing “Jingle Bells”.  I was visiting with my friend and I was so euphoric telling her about the man and the raspberries.  My son left my side, and went to the musician and dropped the change from his pocket into her music case.  He supports the arts, and he is 12.  My heart was beaming with pride.

Resolutions

I am not one to make resolutions but I have been aware especially in the last few days how great it feels to do a random act of kindness.  The recipient is appreciative, but the rush feeling in return is indescribable and I hope to feel it over and over.

I was aware when I didn’t honk and swear at someone who cut me off in traffic, I patted myself on the back.  It felt great to go up to a mom posing her young girls dressed in their fanciest party dresses in front of the mall Christmas tree and offer to take a picture of the mom with her girls.

So, to be accountable, I am putting it out there, a simple act of random kindness each day is the way to live.  Random kindness makes the world light and bright for someone else and does much for the soul.

The Brody Bunch – The Thought Behind Teacher Holiday Gifts

The Season For Giving To Others

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  My four generous children like to give their many teachers homemade gifts during the holidays. Their kindness and thoughtfulness makes my heart burst with pride. They have done this for as long as I can remember. While writing this blog, I received an email from my then Kindergarten aged daughter’s Principal.  The Principal shared a photo of a Christmas ornament that my daughter made for her eight years ago. That ornament still gets hung on the Principal’s Christmas tree!

Saturday, I went to Target because they sent me a coupon “spend $100 get $20 off.” It is not lost on me that we have very little time to make teacher holiday gifts before Winter Break. Especially for four kids with at least eight teachers each.

From Arts & Crafts to Holiday Treats From the Kids

Our days of pipe cleaner beaded snowflake ornament making are sadly behind us.  And, gluing sequins and ribbons onto pre-cut holiday themed cardboard shapes is also a memory from the past. We have evolved into giving Rolo pretzel treats. Rolo pretzels bring holiday cheer in an affordable manner while allowing my kids to be generous and show gratitude over the holiday season. Instead of glitter glue all over my house like from days long ago, my kitchen and dining room are set up like a factory because we assemble a boatload of pretzel Rolo treats for their teachers.

So, I went to Target to purchase Rolos and pretzels. Coincidentally, I ran into the woman who gave me this recipe – melting Rolo candy onto square pretzels and freezing them. Ta-da.  The hardest part of this effort, after unwrapping each individual Rolo, is to not eat the Rolos.

OY to the World

Back to shopping at Target. I was walking through the crowded aisles filled with many people wearing ugly sweaters and holiday graphic t-shirts.  I considered buying a holiday t-shirt with my coupon money, but the joke will wear off for me after the first wear and I know that I will never find the shirt during the holiday season.  I don’t need such a shirt in February. Also, I am Jewish so I give a nod to Hanukkah simply by wearing a necklace that says “OY to the World” – that is my holiday cheer.

Standing in the candy aisle, the sale tag on Rolos is confusing.  The sale was three bags for $10 or whatever was about 55 pieces per bag/165 total candies.  After I figured out the pieces of candies per servings, times the number of servings per gift bag, times four children, times eight teachers each, plus other adults in the building and Crossing Guards, and receptionists, and nurses, and lunch ladies, the Custodian and EVERYONE, I needed a lot of Rolos.

Alex The Target Employee & Talent Scout

Then I met Alex, a Target employee, working in aisle G30.  He overheard me calling my Dad, “Are you busy? Are you in front of your computer?  I need you to go onto Amazon. Target is smartly blocking the Amazon site (at least that is what I think).  I need you to give me the unit price on Rolos, please. WTF? My measurement in Target is by the pound. No, I can’t do the conversion in ounces for Amazon.  Grams? Hell no. Okay, so you agree? Buy Rolos here? It’s probably the same price? Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Alex asked me if I ever thought about getting my own TV show.  Thanks, Alex. Alex said that I had a lot of options for my TV show, but it would be a comedy, possibly a cooking show, but definitely a comedy.

Now that I had an audience, Alex confirmed that the price at Target was great. He didn’t even know the Amazon price. But, Alex thought I was funny and I think he wanted to be on my TV show.  So, I tossed 9 bags of Rolos into my shopping cart. Though if memory serves me correctly, that at Christmas, there are larger quantity bags of Rolos. I told Alex what I was doing and he proceeded to show me other candies that would also taste good melted over ice cream.  Please Alex, there is NO ice cream involved. Then I showed him a box of candy canes and suggested that he open each individually wrapped candy cane, place it in a Ziploc bag, and mash it with a hammer so that he would have Peppermint crunch toppings on HIS ice cream. He was impressed.  I bid Alex adieu and told him that I have to figure out the Rolo formula regarding pretzels, because we need enough bags of pretzels for two pretzels per Rolo. And, if you are really on the ball, you know that some pretzels will come broken in the bag, and someone may or may not eat some Rolos, unauthorized.  

Full Price for Christmas Wrap?

Moving along from the candy aisle, I ended up in the Winter Wonderland section. I met a mom pondering aloud with a toddler in tow if she should buy more Christmas wrapping paper, she’s not sure if she has enough paper from last year. I inquired, “Excuse me. Hi. How are you unsure about this?  Don’t you buy Christmas paper AFTER Christmas when it’s on clearance and stock up for next year?” The look on her face was priceless. She responded, “What does that mean? You actually buy Christmas paper AFTER the season when it’s on sale and use it the following year?” WTF? I am no financial planner, but they aren’t canceling Christmas.  She left impressed. I left overwhelmed knowing the knowledge I have to share with the world.

Next thing I see IN the Winter Wonderland is another sized bag of Rolos. So, now I am doing the formulas that I did previously but adding fractions into the formulas for price comparisons.  I was getting screwed by the candy company. Turns out that the second packaging option was saving me pennies. I reached for about 9 of those sized bags and separated my shopping cart between the first batch of Rolos and the second batch. I walked back to Aisle G30 to return the first round of Rolos. I am a model citizen in these situations.  I can’t believe it, on the end cap, there was a THIRD option. I have my calculator app going, I am scratching numbers on scrap paper and decided indeed that I am going with the third option. I pull back into Aisle G30 and find Alex. I tell Alex that I did not intend to spend my morning earning a degree in Mathematics. He was sorry. But, in my absence, he thought of more recipes.  I was putting the bags back on the shelf and his manager walked by. I told his manager that Alex went above and beyond good customer service. Though I worked really hard at all of the math and re-shelving the inventory. In hindsight, Alex just told me that I needed a TV show. I recommended that Alex get recognition and he received a customer shout out on the employee wide walkie-talkie radio.  I led the cheering in my section of Target.

Rolo Pretzels Are Coming! And So Is Discounted Christmas Wrapping Paper!  … It’s the Thought that Counts!

Anyone who has taught my kids over the past 7 years knows that the Rolo pretzels are coming.  When they say “it’s the thought that counts” indeed, I have given this a lot of thought. … and as a public service announcement, put a reminder in your calendars to buy Christmas wrapping paper on clearance after the New Year.  I’ve thought a lot about that, too.

Brody Bunch – The Bike, Teen Freedom & Adult Personal Growth

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Reflections, Freedom, Personal Growth Because of a Bike

Labor Day is the universal date marking the end of summer. Our summer included great vacations abroad, the beach, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, California and camps. Our memory buckets are overflowing.  And, I will look back on this particular summer as our oldest son’s “Summer of Freedom” combined with the byproduct of my “Summer of Personal Growth”.  

Our son turned 15 in July.  All he wanted was a bike. For his fifth birthday, I gift wrapped a tricycle for him.  His four-year-old sister saw the wrapped gift and excitedly announced: “You got a bike!” He was disappointed that she “ruined” the surprise. There was no doubt that under the Sesame Street wrapping paper a bike was in there.

Ten years later, he wanted a bike.  After bikes were stolen off our porch and there was a stretch of teens being knocked off their bikes by thieves in our neighborhood, we denied bike requests.  Our son’s friend shared an extra bike and the boys spent hours riding around the neighborhood. Yet, my son wanted his own bike. He offered to pay for it. So, I stood between the bike and my fears.  And, should the pendulum swing towards the bike, there would be a beautiful rite of passage for this teenager: independence and freedom.

A Birthday Wish, Agonized and Granted

A grandmother asked me what birthday wish she could fill.  I told her about the bike and asked if she wanted to contribute to that.  She called me back and offered a wonderful bike. My younger children went to see the bike and confirmed that this bike was the perfect size and he would love it. The siblings never mentioned the bike to their eager brother.  My concerns about past crimes and the issue that we live on the West side of a very busy street that needs to be crossed to get into the neighborhood of friends living East of the main road was well known. Now, I held the permission to the gift of freedom. After restless sleep and with tremendous trepidation, I graciously accepted the bike.

Days later after a family dinner, we stepped onto the patio.  The bike was revealed. Our reserved son beamed with happiness and his recessive dimple popped out. Grandparents, parents and siblings filled the porch to see this surprise. I imagine this moment was like someone receiving their first color television or their first car.  With much gratitude, my son held onto the bike handles and quickly shared the safest routes to bike around busy roads. He had a responsible plan already worked out for this magical moment.

The Gift of Freedom and Independence and Letting Go, Riding off into the World

My son, through the bike, was given the gift of freedom.  Throughout the rest of the summer “the guys” rode their bikes to various friends’ homes, the pool, the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the park, and on trails. I received photos of my happy son on his adventures. With a knot in my stomach, my heart was happy for him.  I recognize that I lived through this agonizing decision.

His friends’ parents maintained stocked fridges, a welcome place to sleep, and space to lock up all of the bikes.  It took an entire Village to lift my son, support his wishes to get a bike, and let him be a kid experiencing adventures and journeys.  Deep in my heart, I know this is about me letting go. The experience of getting a bike at age 15,  is very different than a 10-year-old getting a bike. From his parents’ point of view, the issues surrounding a bike at an older age feels much closer to getting a car – further travels in the City, navigating decisions, personal safety, unsupervised travels, and more. We still worry about him constantly, and I share in his happiness about his outings and experiences.  Now, he has the opportunity to ride off into the world, on his own bike.

The Brody Bunch Goes to the School Dance

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The School Dance – Rite of Passage, Hormones & a Mom

The school dance. It’s a rite of passage. It’s hormones about to explode. It’s a night of music that ages the chaperones. It’s outfits of self expression.  It was a surreal experience as a former tween myself.

2 Siblings: 1. Please Chaperone.  2. Please Stay Home.

My one child begged me to chaperone. While his sibling practically insisted that I leave the same zip code where the dance was being held, at their school.

Days leading up to the dance were draining on the home front, “What if there is drama?” or “I am not sure which friends to hang out with.” And, more.  My heartstrings were torn. All of the horrible voices in a tween’s head were being vocalized. While I was grateful for open lines of communication, I became more sad with each conversation prior to the dance.  I recalled how I didn’t like school dances when I was in Middle School.

The day of the dance, I received a communication from my pro-chaperone child, “Best day ever, please don’t come to the dance!”  WHAT BUDDY?  I bailed on an older sibling’s track meet, first place in the mile race, wearing indoor soccer shoes.  And, I said no to a dinner date. I SIGNED ONTO THE DANCE TO PROVIDE COMFORT & SUPPORT!  While my pro-chaperone child threw me a plot twist and requested that I stay away, his anti-chaperone sibling was thrilled. Fortunately, for the kid who rescinded his request for my presence, I developed Vertigo this week, and I couldn’t put up a strong fight.  

For the past two years, I have attended this dance with the pro-chaperone and anti-chaperone’s older siblings. This was our pro-chaperone kid’s first time at this rodeo. My friends appreciate when I attend dances because I text reports and photos of their kids who have banished them from the dance. It’s an unofficial community service I provide for the Village. Though, perhaps my friends are smarter and let their kids win the chaperoning battle, and maybe those parents are all at happy hour, without me. 

Time for the Dance & Karma Was My Date

It was officially time to open the dance floor (the decorated multi-purpose room).  When I pulled up to the schoolyard, the tide of tween concerns washed away. I felt the vibe change.  My pro-chaperone dancer had the most relaxed smile. Kids were running up and squealing his name. It was like a celebrity got out of my car. My gut knew, that we were at a different place than we were when I signed the permission slip for the event. Anxiety and fear turned into comfort and joy. We entered a place of being relaxed and content.  I wasn’t sure what to do, should I linger around or leave? Most people in my shoes would have driven away to the local bar.

Nonetheless, I had a prime parking space in front of the school, so I walked in to say hello to the PTA parents who made the dance possible, and snagged a photo with my kids.  And, out of the blue, I was handed a cash box and asked to collect money for candy and soda sales. I LOATHE candy and soda access for kids. Yup, I am THAT Mom who brings in sliced oranges when signed up for team snack. My kids hate when I am the snack parent. Yet, I understand candy and soda concessions are big money makers for the school. Karma got me, I wasn’t a signed up to volunteer and I shimmied my way into the dance for a photo.  So, there I was with a bunch of sweaty hormonal tweens armed with twenty dollar bills from their generous parents eager to purchase dollar candy bars and cans of soda. The 8 foot banquet table filled with candy was sold in lightning bolt speeds, and I had to keep counting out $19 in change for many transactions.  Then the party goers would come back with their dollar bills and more sugary inventory moved out.  While I was being a good steward of the cash box and candy, I was trying to find my kids from my assigned station, especially the one who initially invited me to attend the dance. As a mom, I sensed that I was initially needed, and now I was not needed at all. Many would call that a victory. I call that Mom growing pains.

My kids and their friends checked in with me several times throughout out the dance, even though they stopped being candy and soda consumers early into the dance. At least I wasn’t being used for my own cash and inventory on hand. From afar, I saw my kid who was anxious about this social evening find joy, acceptance and kind kids.  From our experience, this was the perfect first Middle School Dance.

Sweaty Hormonal Tweens Are Our Future

I looked around the room and realized that one day, these students will be our lawyers, our doctors, our teachers, our researchers, our politicians and more.  I pondered when  the switch flips between tween insecurities into a more established person participating as a contributing member of society.  These experiences are all about the rite of passage throughout life and time. These kids will be okay and we will be okay, too.

While Karma had me selling concessions, and my head was spinning to both bad music and Vertigo, I witnessed happiness.  There is nothing more gratifying in the parenting world as seeing your kids find their way. Communication, being present, quietly worrying, and a little faith is all part of the journey, it’s the parental rite of passage.  

Brody Bunch – Gift Memories over Materialist Gifts

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Taylor Trensch, star of Dear Evan Hansen signed our Playbills, that is a memory!

Creating Memories Over Acquiring More Stuff

“Experiences over material items” that is the Brody Bunch parenting mantra.  I am sick and tired of putting away things that no one really wants or enjoys.  My generation, Generation X, could die from clearing out the things that our Baby Boomer parents thought we might like one day in addition to all of the things we bought when we had first jobs and the economy was great.  So, to limit the clutter for our kids, we have set out to make memories rather than buying another trinket. We haven’t mastered this, but sometimes we get it right.

An Experience To Celebrate a Bat Mitzvah

In celebration of our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, we gave her the choice of many experiences rather than buying an expensive gift.  She is an aspiring actress and singer. Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen was on the top of her list, it was the only thing on her list. With her Bat Mitzvah 7 months behind us, we finally fulfilled her wish.  Tickets didn’t come easy.  And, we were able to pad the show with additional opportunities for more memories. Maybe I was the one receiving the gift, because, just the two of us went on her getaway and I treasured every moment.  I never knew what time it was. She was the perfect traveling partner. She was flexible when plans changed. She has my stamina. She had gratitude for each offering. She laughed at my jokes.

The Agenda, The Journey, The Magic

We went to New York for two full days.  Our journey included the St. Patrick’s Day parade, long walks in Central Park and the West Village.  We had lobster in the Chelsea Market. We did a photo shoot on the High Line. We sang, shimmied, and twisted at Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway.  We ate dinner in an outside heated bar vestibule. When Siri got us really lost, we drank coffee at a Greek diner. We bought new political buttons to wear on our hats for the upcoming March on Washington to fight gun violence in schools.  Some of these buttons were purchased from the same store where we bought our “Vagina Badge of Honor” patches for last year’s Women’s March.

We shared many laughs, like at the parade, someone’s flag brushed me several times and I pulled on it to tell the flag waver that I couldn’t see.  My daughter gasped and giggled, “Mom, you can’t yank someone’s flag.”  When referencing St. Paddy’s day “pot of gold” I stated that because of the local aroma, that the pot of gold is “just pot”. We segued the joke into meaningful conversations about drugs and alcohol.  No one likes these chats, but we have to have them. For good measure, I threw in questions about sex, too. Thanks Parade revelers!

Instead of dining at our favorite restaurant in Little Italy, we found a wonderful bar. We met the owner [female owned] and spoke with everyone near us. We were in a New York State of Mind. And, when my daughter and I were in the bathroom, she told me that we didn’t have time for me to make anymore best friends because we had to get to the theater.  I like doing things until the last minute, to get in more memories, but I knew that she wanted to get to the show.

My other kids kept texting us, “Aren’t you excited!  Just one hour and 19 minutes before you see Dear Evan Hansen!”  and “I miss you! I hope you are having fun!” The kids not on this trip, were celebrating their sister’s excitement and were so happy for her.  Their sibling love was appreciated by her and another gift to me.  It was all magical.

Saw the show, met the lead actor, it was perfect

The show was finally here. It was beautiful and sad.  She has been singing the hits for more than a year. I had my own moments of reflection sitting next to my daughter during this powerful show. Every parent and kid can learn a lot from this incredible production.  A good hard cry was had by me. After the show, we slipped into Junior’s for cheesecake, and the post theater crowd prevented us from getting a table. We called home and said goodnight.

We could see that people were gathering around the theater.  We went back. Two strangers were smiling and pushed my daughter ahead and said, “Taylor Trensch [Evan Hansen] is signing Playbills!” My daughter got up close, I smiled, congratulated him on his performance, and told him that we were here for her Bat Mitzvah celebration. Taylor/Evan Hansen said, “Oh, happy birthday!  I hope your Torah portion went smoothly.”  Wow, glad we couldn’t get the cheesecake!  This was the icing on the cake!

The Journey Continued

After a hotel snafu whereas our paid room, with our checked in luggage, was given away, near midnight, we were put into a taxi and sent to an alternative hotel.  I was mad. I didn’t want our perfect day to end with being annoyed. I made a choice to check myself and chose to remain happy. I gave our daughter a jewelry box with a surprise charm bracelet from Dear Evan Hansen. Her bright smile rivaled that of Times Square’s lights.

The next day, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel.  I shared with my daughter lessons I learned from the show and how some topics reminded me of myself with my mom.  In the background, I could hear an old Billy Joel song and the lyric “it’s always sadness or euphoria.” That song always reminds me of my mom. More tears streamed down my face. It was like I participated in a therapeutic getaway.  We had more meaningful conversations. We were making lots of memories.  

We walked through Koreatown.  I was in accessory heaven. Just one more store!  These trinkets are “different” from the material items we were trying to avoid by making memories – so we made memories while picking up a few more brooches and bracelets. We walked through the Flatiron District. Spent time at the Strand Bookstore. Ate in a hip coffee shop blasting my favorite songs from the 70’s. We went for a long and cold walk in Central Park.  We saw ducks and signs of Spring. I find peace and happiness in Central Park. We intended to go to another diner where we could warm up, and got lost, again. So we walked for a bit and ended up in Ellen’s Stardust Diner.  We had front and center seats whereas we were part of many of the song and dance routines as innocent bystanders. We strolled back to meet our bus home and took in traditional tourist scenery in Times Square.

14 miles of laughs, lessons and “For Forever” memories

My health tracking device noted that we walked 14 miles over two days.  You can cover lots of laughs, serious conversations and historical discoveries in 14 miles. It is the City that never sleeps.  My soul is beaming with happiness. Like the song from Dear Evan Hansen we made “For Forever” memories.

The Brody Bunch participates in the National Student Walkout, and I am Proud

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My daughter’s poster for the National Student Walkout

Support the Schools -Walk Out with the Students

I am so proud that the Baltimore City public school district, administrators, teachers and students supported today’s National Student Walkout.  My own 7th grader asked me several times to attend the walkout. There was apprehension about missing classes, consequences, breaking the rules.  I declared that there would be no consequences at home for participating in a school walkout fighting this injustice.  Our school strongly embraced the need to support the students and fight to end the gun violence epidemic in our schools and made it very comfortable for students and teachers choosing not to participate in the walkout. 

At this time, it is not a matter of  IF another school shooting will happen again, it is a matter of WHERE it will happen again, and students are demanding action from legislators.  The students are rising up.  They will beat the National Rifle Association, who owns our Congress.  I support the Second Amendment, I am against assault weapons.  I am sick of being sick of school shootings.  I strongly supported today’s National Student Walkout.  During the walkout, I did not hear any political commentary surrounding the school shootings.  I learned about the 17 people killed one month ago today.  I cried for them.  This violence can happen anywhere. We have lost over 7000 children since Columbine. It is #enough.

When your kid asks you to be present, and you can, be present. I am so glad I attended the National Student Walkout, with my kids and their classmates and teachers.

At 10AM, the slated time for the National Student Walkout, the front doors to our school were held open by our Principal.  I saw my oldest son and some of his baseball teammates walkout in solidarity.  I cried.

One of my daughters found me and she hugged me.  Some other parents were on school grounds also offering their support.  Parents and teachers huddled together commenting how horrible it is that we need to do this and how proud we are of the kids. The kids will make change. My own children, and their generation, are growing up with gun violence as a “normal” occurrence, this is wrong and inhumane.  I am so proud that all four of my kids and their friends stood up for those who have been killed, and recognize that there needs to be change.  They are taking action.

Student Leaders Are Leading and Inspiring

Our student government association leaders read a tribute for each person who perished in the Parkland school shooting one month ago today and there was a moment of silence for each person.  This student run program was meaningful and important.

The 17 minute walkout ended with a student encouraging her schoolmates to March on Washington or in our own City on March 24th. I am so proud of our children for being leaders of change. 

May the children and adults who have perished in school shootings not have died in vain.  May their memories be a blessing and let the children continue to lead the way, because the adults have failed. This is more than #enough.  I stand with the students.  I walkout with the students. I march with the students. I support the students.  The students are leading the way.  I will follow their direction.  We have had #enough.

My experience ended with my daughter embracing me in the school yard.  Her sign “I am missing school because they’re missing lives” was between us.  When you are in middle school, hugging and kissing your mom in the school yard because of gun violence, it there are a lot of feelings. #enough

The Brody Bunch – Supporting Arts in Public Schools, Family & Community

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One Day – Two Agendas: Funding the Arts and Supporting the Arts

Support the arts in your local schools. In less than 7 hours, I had the opportunity to both participate in a difficult strategic planning conversation about funding arts in City Public Schools and I attended an elementary school play. Budget cuts impacted arts programming in my City, Baltimore.  I shared in the meeting that now more than ever it is necessary to support arts in the schools and reach as many students as possible. Arts spills into academic subjects. The arts help students become creative learners. Arts help kids process the challenging world around them. The arts in schools need to be valued on the same level as the school guidance counselor. It is unacceptable that the arts are on the front line during budget cuts.  

Hours after the arts meeting about budget cuts and outreach initiatives, I attended closing night of my son’s elementary school play. This is my youngest child, so our last elementary school play.  The after school rehearsals, the hours of teacher and parent volunteering, school matinees, a cast luncheon and two community wide performances were coming to an end.  The beautiful costumes, created by volunteers, would be cleaned and stored for future shows. The hand painted set by teachers and parents would come down. The Middle School Tech Crew raised the lights one last time. The cast took their final bow.  Parents gave the last standing ovation.

Photographing The Play – I Saw Through My Eyes and My HeART

As the volunteer play photographer, I sit in the front row, for each play and capture precious moments of the kids’ proud theater experiences. I share the snapshots with the theater families as mementos from our community experience. Please don’t judge my blog photos, I tried to preserve the students’ privacy.

In this final performance, I saw something beyond my camera lens.  My heart was moved beyond the play itself… I witnessed family love, pride and community. This was a gift from the theater. The play served as a vehicle for me to see my older children and their friends rise to the occasion of celebrating their younger siblings. It’s something that after all of the laundry, lunch packing and stress is a return payout for the parent. Watching the older siblings celebrate the younger siblings was surreal.

Two of my older kids were sitting near me with their friends. Many of the older kids play baseball together, so our families spend a fair amount of time together, we are an extended family.  I was happy for those families, too. I could see the lights bouncing off the older siblings’ faces. The older kids smiled with much pride when their younger siblings entered the stage or had lines. The younger siblings could see us in the audience, and their smiles of comfort, love and gratitude were wide. I could not wait to share this observation with the other parents sitting further back. Also in the audience, were baseball coaches and friends of families, without their own kids in this play, supporting kids they coach, we are a community.

The After Party – Hosted by Parents, Supported by Siblings

The play wrapped up.  Parents put together a great after party. And, one of my daughters, and her friends, 6th graders, DJ’d the post party. The songs were preselected and reviewed for inappropriate language.  Strobe lights and smoke machines filled the dance floor.  It was awesome celebrating as a community supporting the arts. As the night got later and parents went off to other parties not affiliated with the play, we met up at various homes, and celebrated the kids’ successes. The arts bring out the best in people. It was a euphoric night centered around the elementary school play.  And, the night was a great reminder that we need to keep volunteering and fighting to preserve art programs in public schools, for all of the children.

eARTh without ART is just “EH”

Supporting the arts is a value that has been passed on to me by my parents. Arts is a value. My kids attend budget rallies in support of the arts.  In the arts community, you often find people with compassion and passion. These are people to stick with. Attending your local theater is a great way to shape a kid’s world.  Like the expression “eARTh without ART is just EH” kids don’t need EH, they need art.  Less than 48 hours after the elementary school play wrapped, the middle school musical is already in progress. Support the arts in public schools.  You might get extra lucky like me and see your kids do something to melt your heART.

The Brody Bunch – PLEASE be my Valentine!

Valentine’s Day Pre-Planning, Cards

I LOVE Valentine’s Day.  Ahead of festivities, annually, I purchase the Christmas clearance red wrapping paper and save it for Valentine’s Day. I am a planner. I give the Brody Bunch presents which are usually little leftover gifts from Chanukah.  

Valentine’s Day, Classroom Cards

When our kids were much younger, I made sure that each of them had a Valentine for EACH kid in their class. With four kids, it was like a Hallmark factory in my dining room. We would buy pretty paper and make cards.  We never had the popular character card kits. I was disappointed when the kids’ teachers instructed the students (and parents) not to personally address the cards, but rather just sign their names and pass out generic cards to classmates.  With Valentine’s Day a cousin to Halloween in terms of candy, we would go out of our way and find little items to tape to the card, a pink pencil, a heart shaped eraser, heart stamps, something to hype up our generic handmade cards. Think Dollar Store finds!  The kids’ classes were large and we had lots of Valentines to generate.  So, I would buy pretty paper, new stickers, and ribbons, and on lazy cold mornings, we would start making Valentines, like a machine.  

Valentine’s Day, Write from the Heart

At a very young age, one Valentine night, our son declared, while being tucked in, that he did not like store bought cards with our signed names. That year, he was sad. Despite his present bag filled with baseball cards and candy, no one made him a special card, and he was sad. I told him to get out of bed. He walked with me to where I kept my art supplies, and I watched his frown become a huge smile as I made him a very special homemade card.  That was one of my best Valentine moments ever. He taught me that a special card is one with a meaningful message not printed in the card, but handwritten, from the heart. Since that night, I never bought another store produced card. 

Valentine’s Day, Now, My Heart Skipped A Beat

Between my own child’s Valentine card standards, the teachers’ Valentine rules, I found my place in the Valentine empire – art supplies!  We have a closet filled with ribbons, paper, heart stickers, markers, buttons and baubles and more. It’s a very chaotic and disorganized space and happiness is produced out of that mess. Recently, I was hopeful to replenish our supplies.  However, my heart skipped a beat when I photographed pretty art supplies and texted my daughter with excitement about our upcoming Valentines, “Do you want to make valentines?” and she answered, “Yes. Don’t buy, I can make cards.”  I was relegated to feeling like Charlie Brown regarding the Little Redhead Girl.  My kids are getting older. They don’t want to make cards in mass production together.  They will probably used lined notebook paper. Perhaps it should have been a clue that if my kid can text that maybe she has outgrown pretty papers and puffy heart stickers.

Valentine’s Day, Need My Expectations in Check

This Valentine’s Day, I am giving each of my kids a red bag filled with something that they don’t need, with a heart shaped box of candy and a handwritten note.  We will take our annual Valentine’s Day photo with their Valentine heart shaped candy boxes. There won’t be any fancy dinner for me with their Dad on Valentine’s Day as we will be carpooling kids from soccer practice, theater class and Hebrew School. As our kids get older, I know to get my expectations in order.  Incredible memories were created while we made Valentines.  Perhaps those Valentines were more for me than they were for the classmates. Most of those cards should have ended up in recycling, but my memories are still with me.

Before this blog published, I shared with my daughter, the texting one, that I wrote a blog inspired by how much I miss making Valentine cards with her. And it’s that time of the year. She responded, “Well, let’s make some Valentines!” Oh my heartstrings are pulled towards happiness. Though intellectually, I am most confused by the Puberty laced Roller Coaster. I just want to make Valentines!

Valentine’s Day – February 15th!

Perhaps a tradition I recall most from my own childhood is celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 15th. Yes, February 15th. As a child, I always thought that Valentine’s Day was on February 15th because all of the candy and cards were half priced and that is when my family celebrated.

Signing off with much love at full price and clearance price. There’s plenty of love to go around.

The Brody Bunch – Tradition, Trees & Happiness

Celebrating Tu B’shevat – A New Year for the Trees

My family celebrates Tu B’shevat, the new year for the trees, the trees’ birthday. This is a Jewish holiday not widely celebrated in America, but it is in Israel. The Brody Bunch has our own family traditions around this festive holiday.  When the kids were in preschool through last year, each received a Graham cracker with green frosting and M&Ms to depict a tree. This dessert tree was introduced to us through a preschool teacher.  We sing “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew and English.  And, we read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Treeand ate a tasty tree. We were happy.

Often we go through the motions as we manage our busy school and work schedules compounded with theater and sports schedules and life.  I thought that our celebration of the trees would be nothing short of checking off another obligation from the calendar. The Brody Bunch has been more than colorful with their 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old selves. Holidays are important in my family, but we often spin out of control on our self created hamster wheel.  Yet, this Tu B’shevat, my family rose to the occasion and made me the happiest mom during our little celebration. 

Tweaking Tradition, A Pinterest “Nailed It”

With healthier eating choices, I did not buy Graham crackers, frosting and M&Ms. It was strongly noted how disappointed people were without their frosting trees because it is our tradition. Instead, I went to a high end grocery store, bought fresh veggies and successfully mimicked a vegetable design in the shape of a tree as seen on Pinterest, really a Christmas tree, and served the vegetable tree with a holiday tray of traditional dry fruits and nuts.  The vegetables, dried fruit and nuts were all eaten as the Brody Bunch reminisced about the days of their frosting trees.

We gleefully sang Happy Birthday in both Hebrew and English. And, our youngest son read to us, The Giving Tree.  Our copy of this book, which was mine and my younger brother’s, from our childhood, has been on my bookshelf for more than 40 years.  The story has had different meanings to me at different stages in my own life.  However, this year’s dramatic reading of The Giving Tree was different with the character voices given to both the Boy and the Tree by our theatrical reader.  And, like the Boy and the Tree, from the book, I was happy.

I went up to bed ahead of everyone else, and I was happy. My head it the pillow and I heard my oldest son declare, “This is the first year that Mom didn’t make us line up on the couch and take a picture.  Probably because she didn’t make us frosting trees.”  I jumped out of bed, grabbed a camera and rallied (bribed) the troops for our annual Tu B’shevat picture.  I was met with resistance.  And like any mom with a low moral compass trying to preserve pictorial tradition, I offered my son a few extra dollars for the weekend if he went along with photo.  I had to shake on it.  Thankfully he negotiated poorly and requested a specific amount of money after the handshake.  

The Photo Shoot is part of our Traditions

We went downstairs, to regroup on the couch for the photo. And, also like tradition, there was arguing during the photo shoot, people sitting too closely, face making, inappropriate fingers in the air. I promised only to use one camera and not a camera and a phone combo.  We captured some sort of photographic memento.  I have heard the kids say that they are so happy that we have pictures from throughout the years, though their gratitude is forgotten when going through the effort.

It Was a Joyous Night and the Frosting Was Missed, But Like the Tree, We Were Happy

Again, I climbed the stairs and put my head back on the pillow.  My husband then inquired, “Did you look online to create that vegetable tray?”  Indeed I did! It was my first Pinterest ‘Nailed It’! My family ‘nailed it’ it, too.  Their participation and appreciation makes the effort worth it.

I fell asleep hearing, “I have known you for a long time and knew that you found that online, it was great, but not really you … I missed the Graham crackers with frosting.” Like the Tree and the Boy, from the book, I was happy. We were all happy. Perhaps part of celebrating holidays is to create traditions that are special to each family.  Kumbaya to celebrating the trees as a tradition.

The Brody Bunch – Public Schools Need Our Support

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Public School Stats and A Mother’s Intuition

I am not the authority on public school education and statistical data, but I am an active mom in a Baltimore City Public school. And, sometimes, a Mom’s intuition and observations deserves a voice at the table along with the statistical data, experts and politicians.

Yesterday, I stood in line with my student vying for a seat through a competitive placement exam in a respected Baltimore City Public High School.  There are more students than available seats for the program. Yet, all students do not have many options for a safe and meaningful public education. The pickings are slim.  Every student and parent in that line only wants the best academic opportunity.  Yet, educators, parents, politicians and students know that the system is broken.

It was inspiring to see many motivated students hoping to earn a seat for their middle school and high school career. It’s also sad that all of the qualified students won’t have the same educational opportunities due to space limitations and funding inequities. Imagine if Trump held the budget hostage for educational funding instead of his Wall.

Joining The Public School Journey & Being Involved Opened My Eyes and My Heart to the Academic Injustices

After making a difficult financial decision to move our four children out of private school, one of which I am still very involved, we have been engaged in the public school classrooms, and on local and state levels with funding issues and policy.  Our children are also engaged with policy issues in their school and within the school system.

In Baltimore City Public Middle schools, students take classes based on “tracks”. The tracks I am most familiar with are: General Education, Advanced Academics, and Ingenuity which favors a heavy math and science curriculum.  

In Baltimore City Public High Schools, due to poorly performing schools, students are ranked and based upon their composite scores, they hope to secure a seat into one of the few and very coveted public high schools.  This process is known as the School Choice program.

One benefit of the School Choice program is that students are able to leave their failing neighborhood schools. Students traveling outside of their neighborhood schools creates opportunities for students and their families to meet people from different social, racial and economic backgrounds. Conversations change when engaging with people from different experiences and perspectives. A downside to School Choice is that children with lower academic success often remain in under-served schools lacking basic resources, reliable technology, and don’t have enough advocates helping them to level the playing field.  School Choice segregates educational opportunities.

When my family unexpectedly began our Public School journey, I noticed that in Middle School, white children were the majority of Advanced Academics and Ingenuity track students. And, black children comprised the majority of the General Education track.  I also noticed that the majority of disciplinary problems appeared in the General Education track, or disproportionately with the black students. These were red flags to me. These inequities pull at my heart strings. The tracks and discipline are now widely discussed, challenged and being reworked.  Change takes time.  We are in a segregated academic environment in an integrated urban community.  In our particular school, we have very talented, caring and devoted teachers and administrators. They go way above and beyond their job descriptions and Union contracts.

My family has also entered the high school choice process. Students in the Advanced Academics program and Ingenuity program have heavier weights in the formula applied to their composite scores which is most helpful to earning and securing a seat in a better high school. And, our students have had opportunities for extra credit along the way “if you donate school supplies, you will get 10% added to a grade” or “yes, you can redo a project” etc.  Along with better grades comes better funding for the individual schools, and better opportunities for specific kids. An academically motivated student with a parent able to kick in more money classroom, both helps an underpaid teacher not take money out of her pocket, and creates unfair advantages to student composite scores.  This is another inequity in public education.  Because the Choice program is so competitive, each additional percentage in the composite score does make a difference.

Supplementing Athletics and Arts, Not All Kids Can Easily Participate

My kids work very hard.  Their academics are a value to them. We are so proud of them. Though because of all of the State mandated testing, students miss essential programming such as meaningful recess or consistent gym and art classes. With overcrowding and scheduling challenges there is never enough time for all students to engage in the arts and gym which has scientifically been proven to support and improve learning skills. Arts and athletics are important to learning. 

My family spends a lot of time and money on extracurricular activities including arts and athletics.  Most families require at least a dual income. With the rise of urban crime, kids don’t go outside and play like we used to.  Everything is an organized paid to play activity, which causes more inequities along the way for those who can pay and those who can’t. I volunteer on a low level to help raise funds to offset baseball fees for families needing financial aid. I can’t imagine a family swinging all of the fees for all essential needs plus supplemental programs and planning ahead for college and retirement in this economy compounded with rising healthcare costs, increasing electricity bills and the the high costs of healthy eating.  We should all to do our part and more.

Families Across The City Hope for a Better Educational Opportunity – And Spaces are Limited, but Desire is Not

Our financial futures begin with an education.  Better educated people have more opportunities.  Yesterday, on a Saturday, my son had a 7:30 AM start time to take a placement test for a public high school accelerated program.  To earn a seat, a student needs high grades and takes a difficult placement test.  Perhaps there are 400 seats for incoming freshmen, City wide.  Maybe there were a thousand or more students from all across our City lining around the school waiting to be processed to take the exam for both middle school and high school accelerated math and science. This exam is for rising 6th graders and rising 9th graders, along with students in higher grades, bored in their academic track, hoping to secure a rare open seat in the program.  

I asked my student if he wanted me to drop him off or come in.  He asked me to come in, I know my blessings.  I enjoyed visiting with other waiting parents I know and chit chatted with everyone around me.  I asked strangers, “what part of the City are you from?”  They named public schools I have never heard of, in neighborhoods that I only know by the landmarks such as “near Johns Hopkins Hospital” or “near Lexington Market”.  I made my life in my neighborhood where my kids go to school, where we live, and where I work, all within 3 miles.  I am civic minded and believe that it is our job to support ALL of our kids in the City, because if they succeed, we ALL succeed.  

And, as I stood in this incredibly long line (think longer than a highly contested election day line), each family only wants the same thing: a safe and meaningful education for their child. All students should be afforded this basic right in any public school.  This should not be a privilege. Though, in our public education system, it is a privilege for a few.

Public School Needs an Overhaul like the Civil Rights Movement, and it All Starts with Us. We need a Revolution.

Competition is great, but not when it comes to a challenging and safe education. It is long overdue to demand an overhaul to the Public School system much like that of the Civil Rights Movement.  

Perhaps many of the school issues stem from issues not yet resolved within the Civil Rights work that we are still fighting for today.  Nonetheless, every student should have the opportunity for a strong, challenging and safe education. Education is the future for ALL of us.

We all need to do our part and a little more. Acknowledge that the schools have become more than a place to read and write – schools are providing basic healthcare, food for the hungry, social services for the homeless, homework help for those needing support, childcare for parents running late from work and more. The schools are so overburdened. Teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. The broken system can be fixed.

Help. Join a committee. Write a legislator. Ask your Principal how you can help.  Volunteer in a school.  Be informed.  Donate your time and talents. Give a little extra to your school.  Demand that your kid knows that school is his or her job. Know your kid’s teachers. Show up to PTA meetings. Email your teachers gratitude. Question authority. Attend school events, meetings and performances. Use your voice.  Ask questions. There are more of us that can do something to help. It all adds up. We all have a horse in this race.  You can start by looking up your local public school, contacting them, and asking what you can do to help. The Brody Bunch supports Public School, we have celebrated more successes than not.  Yet, ALL kids should have equal opportunities within the public school system.