Friday, May 30, 2008

Education Deprivation

A new report from the United Way of Greater Los Angeles finds that too often when we talk about education reform, we focus on early education (the primary years) and high school (preparing kids for college), while ignoring the middle school years, which are critical. Kids who struggle in middle school tend to drop out once they hit high school, or even before. Statistically, these kids are more likely to continue struggling throughout their lives, since without an education they are much less likely to make a living wage. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger* is proposing to cut LAUSD funding by $350 million, due to the state budget deficit. Talk about kicking you when you’re down. Check out these statistics:

100% of L.A. County middle schools spend less on each student than the national average.

At least 20% of teachers in L.A. County middle schools lack full teaching credentials.

Half of middle schools in L.A. County meet the state’s definition of an overcrowded school, and within the LAUSD this proportion jumps to 75%.

70% of schools that serve high levels of low-income students are categorized as Program Improvement schools – meaning they have not improved their academic outcomes for two years in a row. Half of these have seen no improvement for 4 or 5 consecutive years.
If you feel up to it, the Summary Report and the Full Report are available for free download at United Way Los Angeles.

* By the way, the Schwarzenegger household will be unaffected by the budget cuts. I hear that his children attend a private school that charges over $25,000 a year in tuition.

Fashion Crisis

Oh Lord. I have to go to a cocktail event tomorrow night and I don't know what I'm going to wear. I have two maternity dresses but they are very much more business-y than dressy. Since I left this until the last minute, I can't order anything online and I fear I'm going to end up spending an outrageous amount of money for something I'll wear only a couple of times. Crap.

I really dislike myself sometimes.

Updated to add: Okay, so I ended up looking pulled together, if not glam. I bought this quite non-dressy dress at GapMaternity:

And I spruced it up with a pretty sheer apple green wrap, some dangly multi-colored chandelier earrings, a couple of green and gold bangles, and these A. Marinelli peep-toe pumps:

I also wore my hair down and finger-curled little ringlets into it. Since I didn't take a picture, you're going to have to take my word for it, but I think I cleaned up pretty good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What the...?

So for those who have been following along at home, you know that the Blah Blahs have been trying to find a larger place to live. We don't have to vacate our current digs at any particular date, but we do need more space for when Fetal Blah arrives in late October, with all the attendant baby gizmos and gear. We'd like to move this summer at the latest so I don't have to deal with packing and settling in while being gargantuan.

A couple of nights ago, we went to check out a place that was nice but too pricey for what it was and where it was. I have also been having an ongoing email conversation with someone who listed a house for rent, then when contacted told me the house wasn't ready to show*. We exchanged emails for a week or so, and then she asked me to give her a couple more weeks to get repairs made. I contacted her today to ask if the house was ready, and this is the response I got:

"At this point we have two very interested couples. Thanks, [insert name here]"

What the hell? Clearly this was not meant to be, but I'm discouraged and (I'll admit) a little ticked off.

As my friend Sploo would say, "That is some foolywang**."

So I'm a little bummed out on the house front, which means that this weekend will no doubt turn into an episode of The Blah Blahs Mix It Up, also known as To Make Themselves Feel Better, The Blah Blahs Redecorate. Tune in, while we:

  • debate the merits of blank, pretty sunshine-yellow walls vs. actually hanging artwork in the living/dining area, the walls of which consist of some impossible, impassable substance which you can hammer into forever and still not get the smallest hole to stick a nail or picture hanger;
  • dig up the flower bed and relocate the lantana;
  • find some pavers and put them in the flower bed, which is located very inconveniently in a strip running right through the middle of the patio (aesthetically pleasing, but when you have kids running through it, not so much);
  • gripe about the housing market;
  • buy new bedding for the master bedroom because it is no longer sexy in there;
  • lie around on the couch exhausted from our labors;
  • lie around on the couch having not done any of the above;
  • instead of doing any of the above, make movies in the backyard, with Viva as the star;
  • instead of doing any of the above, create an art project with Viva;
  • watch the NBA playoffs, which will apparently Never END (no, seriously - whose idea was it to stretch the playoff semifinals to "best of seven" instead of "best of five"? Because I like basketball, but I'm done already, and we haven't even gotten through the Eastern and Western Conference finals. Can't we just fast-forward?);
  • debate going to the beach/the in-laws' (on either side)/another kid's birthday party/on vacation;
  • create a simple yet stylish filing solution for the gobs of paper threatening to swallow our house;
  • rag on each other for our choices of baby names;
  • create a dazzling sculptural masterpiece out of all the shoes Viva has outgrown in the past couple of weeks.
Stay tuned for the soundtrack! Coming soon!

* Which should have raised a red flag anyway, since why list the house if it's not ready to show?

** Foolywang is my new favorite word. I am adding it to my list of potential baby names.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spleen, Venting Of

This morning, while I was waiting An Eternity for Viva to get out of the bathroom, I turned on the TV to find a decent kids’ show that I had recorded (for some reason, at the time when I am usually in the shower and Viva is eating breakfast, there is a dearth of shows which catch her interest or are age-appropriate – she is in this weird netherworld where the preschool shows are too babyish, but the shows she would love to make me let her watch are too old for her. I end up taping a conglomeration of shows at various times when we are not home so I have something to keep her from standing outside the shower and screaming the same made-up song at me thirty times in a row). At this time of day, Good Morning America was on, and George Stephanopoulos was pontificating about the West Virginia primary.

Ordinarily I have no issue with George Stephanopoulos – I mean, he is so cute, you could just put him in your pocket and button it up if you didn’t want to listen to him. But GMA host Robin Roberts asked him what stood out in this primary and he responded, “Race has played more of a factor in West Virginia than in any other contest we’ve seen so far.”

He then cited the following numbers from an exit poll of “white voters” in the West VA primary:

2 out of 10 said race was a factor in how they voted
8 out of 10 voted for Hillary Clinton
3 out of 10 would support Obama vs. McCain
“This shows a real problem for Barack Obama,” he said.

“This shows a real problem for AMERICA!” I shouted at the television. Prejudice is alive and well, and we can point it out, but let’s not address it head-on – why no, let’s just keep it moving. “God, I can’t stand it,” I said, and added some choice words.

Of course, that made Viva come out of the bathroom. If Mama asks you to wrap it up and eat your breakfast, no. But if you hear Mama swearing under her breath, by all means, come on out!

P.S. New post up at Belly Overwhelmed. I'm not making any promises that it's better than this one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Off the Deep End

I am having trouble accessing Blogger today (including comments), so I am moblogging.  Also, my apologies to Liz over at Los Angelista -- I have tried responding to your comment a couple of times, but no go! I'll try again tomorrow...

Nearly 60 percent of black children can't swim

New study underlies efforts to prevent drowning, boost sports participation


A recent survey by USA Swimming found that 58% of African-American children can't swim, and that Black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate.


Now, I can swim, but I don't like to. I almost drowned in a YMCA swimming pool when I was four during "free swim" time at summer camp, and ever since then, I hate being in water over my head. Sweet Dub swims like he was born to it, and knowing of my fear of the water, he was determined to teach Viva how to swim (and how to LOVE to swim) from a very young age. 


At the outset, Viva was fearless. She would launch off the side of the pool and plunge right in, paddling around even when her teeth were chattering. She just didn't want to get out. And then, a couple of years ago, she started "learning" how to swim at day camp. And all of a sudden, she was not so fearless. Sweet Dub was furious. We don't know what exactly happened, but suddenly she did seem to be a bit dubious about the water. "They put the FEAR in her!" he howled angrily.


Not long after that, we moved from the apartment building where we had a pool at our disposal whenever we wanted it, and to a house where there is a yard, but no pool aside from the kiddie pool we throw out there and fill with the hose.


I recently took Viva over to a friend's for a playdate. They live in a luxury apartment building, and they have a pool. I watched Viva and her friend swimming around, and I realized her friend is hugely confident in the water – she is not quite five, yet swims quite ably from the shallow to the deep end and back. Viva, on the other hand, is constantly getting water up her nose, swallowing water, and refusing to get her face wet.


Now: last year, when we went to Hawaii, we bought Viva a lifejacket. This is because we knew we would be swimming in the open ocean, with a strong undertow. Viva now insists on wearing this lifejacket every time she swims, whether in a pool or the open water. It is a security blanket. I hate it, although I haven't commented on it much beyond, "Are you sure you want to take it? You're such a good swimmer I don't think you need it." Viva always assures me that she does in fact need it.


An added wrinkle: the African-American hair. Viva has lots and lots of hair. It is naturally kinky and naturally very dry. The chlorine really does a job on her hair and makes it even more fragile. It makes it harder to comb through and more subject to breakage. I do not need an extra struggle over her hair (yet another reason for her to hate swimming). This year, I would love to get her into a good swimming program, but I'm considering getting her hair braided to protect it. 


Sweet Dub looks concerned. "Are you sure you really want to do that?" he says. "They just braid their hair so tight. I know I've seen little girls come back from having their hair done and their face looks like this–" and he stretches his face back with his hands in that universal symbol for "bad facelift."  "And then we'll have to listen to her whining about how her head hurts."


Oh my God. Do you see?


I am trying to make sure my child will not drown, and if getting her hair braided tight* is the price we must pay, then so be it.


* Although I am not down with the dreaded traction alopecia.  I don't want my baby to end up bald.


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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Her Little World

This morning, in the car.

Mama Blah [catching sight of the gas station marquee on the way past]: $3.95 for gas! Whoo!

Viva: Mom, I think you'd like to live in my world.

MB: Baby, I already do live in your world.

V [exasperated]: No, in my little world.

MB [catching on]: Why do you think I would like to live in your little world, sweetie?

V: Because in my little world, gas costs only a penny!

MB: WOW! I love your little world!

V: I know! And everything else is free!

MB: Your little world rocks!

V [giggling in the cutest little girl way]: I know!

MB: What else goes on in your little world?

V: Nobody has to go to work or go to school and you can just go the beach all day like in HaWAH-yee!

MB: Book me a ticket, baby. I am so there.

P.S. New posts up at Belly Overwhelmed. Yeah, cross-posting there. Don't know why I'm so scattered these days. Just go with it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Low Road

Something happened recently that made me very uncomfortable. Not only am I uncomfortable with what happened, but I am unhappy with my reaction to it. What do you do when you are directly confronted by racism? Do you react differently when it is not directed at you?

Let me lay it out for you. The company I work for recently held an all-day, all-staff workshop. These days we talk a lot about cultural competency, and one of the themes of the day was cultural community – which communities do you belong to, which labels do you give yourself, what assumptions do you make about other folks based on what they look like? The company I work for seems to attract a very diverse group, and we work all over the city at different sites. For the latter reason, it is very easy to be seated at one of these workshops with someone you have never seen before.

It was an interesting day, with some unexpected twists. And I’m glad that the “powers that be” didn’t shy away from having us talk about this stuff. Is it such a bad thing to have a conversation about race (as Barack Obama encourages us to do)?

During the day, we had the chance to break out briefly into one-on-one duos, wherein each participant had to answer a race/culture-related question. During one of these time-limited exchanges, I was seated with an African-American woman. The issue we were told to pose to each other was, “Describe a situation in which you have made an assumption about someone based on the community they come from.” This woman was pretty rigid in her body language and did not turn toward me when I sat down. Who knows what was going on with her, but my first impression was that she was not open to this whole concept.

When I posed the question to her, she told me a story about how she was crossing the street, in the crosswalk near work, and she had the right of way. A car turned right into the crosswalk and barely avoided hitting her. The driver, an Asian man, then threw his hands up in the air at her, in the universal signal for “what the hell are you doing?,” which is rather bizarre considering she was in the right, but certainly I’ve seen people do similar, non-sense-making, rude things while driving. She then responded with a very racist remark which I will not repeat here but which had to do with his eyes.

I couldn’t believe it. “Wh-well, wha—what did he SAY?” I stammered, completely aghast, and at the same time, completely and absolutely positive that I couldn’t call her on it.

“He didn’t say anything. What could he say? He almost hit me!” she said, and then, “He probably didn’t understand what I said anyway. He probably didn’t speak English.”

So there we were, at a table of 12 people, in a room full of 300-some people, each doing their own thing, sharing their own experiences, and I realized that (a) she was certainly not going to accept any criticism from me, since I appear white, (b) she may not even classify what she said as racist, and (c) that no one else had heard what she said.

“And how do you feel about how you handled it?” I said, since I couldn’t think of anything else to say except, “Wow, that was really incredibly racist!” and I knew that wouldn’t fly.

Ladies and Gentlemen: she shrugged. And then the moderator had us all get up and move to the next person, and the next question, and the overall feeling of “Kumbaya” in the room kept going, even if soured for me.

I’m wondering if anyone else in the room experienced this.

And I’m wondering what else I could have said, in retrospect, aside from “My best friend is Asian and my brother-in-law is Asian and my nephews are half-Asian, you racist ass!”

How do you respond to comments like this, particularly in the work environment when you’re trying to maintain professionalism?