Sunday, September 17, 2017

Our Dog the Celebrity

I don't mean to brag, but it turns out our dog Beauty is a celebrity.

There's a certain place we go where she is greeted by name the minute we walk in the door. Staff stop to pet her, and they can barely contain themselves taking turns to give her treats.

That place is Walgreen's.

This is one of the pluses of living in our walkable, dog-friendly neighborhood. There's a Walgreen's three blocks from our house, and they let dogs shop with their owners. Between our family of four we've got five prescriptions on auto-renew; we are there a lot. Plus it's an easy stop for a gallon of milk, some chocolate, or other items.

We know most of the employees by name. There's Kris, who walks to work 2 miles one way. Only during thunderstorms or blizzards does he take the bus. And John, the pharmacist tech, who recognizes me and knows to look for prescriptions under one of two names when I appear at his window. And Muhamed, who is afraid of dogs but tolerates Beauty. Of course, Monica is our favorite, because she feeds Beauty treats one after another right out of the box behind the register, and then usually steals one or two into our bag as she's checking us out.

We walk in and whomever is working the register usually greets the dog before s/he sees who is accompanying the dog. "Hi Beauty!" we'll hear upon entrance.

Beauty usually checks register #2 first -- if no one is there, she'll walk around to register #1 and sit politely, waiting for a treat. The minute she sees an employee in a light blue shirt in any aisle, she walks up to them and sits down, eagerly waiting for a treat.

If you let her lead the way, she'll walk you straight to the pet food/dog toy aisle, where she will sniff everything in earnest.

She doesn't usually get to have one until we check out, and then the farewells begin: "Bye Beauty! Bye pretty dog! See you again!"

Some day I'll teach her how to give out her autograph.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Concert Ticket for One, Please

On Friday night I joined dozens of my friends and fellow U2 lovers and went to the U2 concert at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Except I sat alone.

I knew many of my friends were planning on going, had probably purchased tickets the second they went on sale. Because our family life has been so unpredictable of late, I didn't buy one. As the date came closer and closer, I knew I couldn't miss one of my favorite bands for the second time in three years. I nabbed a cheap ticket from a neighbor on and made plans to go alone.

Turns out that I was able to have dinner beforehand with my childhood friend Lisa and her sister, Kathy, who traveled from Green Bay to the Twin Cities to visit and take in the concert. We walked to the stadium after dinner and then parted ways. I headed up to the top-most tier, second to last row from the back wall.
Lisa and Kathy, two of the four "Hirsch girls" as they will always be to our family. 

Looking out the massive glass doors of the stadium onto downtown Minneapolis on my way up to my seat.
I chatted for a bit with the couple next to me, who had also purchased their tickets from the same couple I had. But once the concert began, it was just the music and I.

I danced. I sang. I stood up when nobody else around me was. I belted out every word to the lesser known songs when no one else was singing.

The visual show was incredible. Inspiring. Magical. I am so glad I took in this experience.

The Joshua Tree, opening scene.

The real Bono is the white spot in the blue light on stage. The visuals were unbelievable.

Gives a new meaning to "harvest moon." 

It's not the first time I've gone to events on my own, the first one being Creed in 2010. I had loved the band at their height but lived in Mankato at the time, and going to the concert in the Twin Cities was a bit more daunting then. Now, on what I suspected would be their last tour, I couldn't miss them. I ended up connecting with a gay couple next to me during the concert, and we went out afterwards for a drink.

Another time two of my favorite guitarists, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, were in a tour called "The Hendrix Experience," with some of the top guitarists paying tribute to Jimmy Hendrix. No one was interested in going with me, so I bought myself a ticket and went. I ended up leaving that one early because I had forgotten to bring ear plugs and I was so close to the stage that I was seated in front of the wall of speakers. I love a good Joe Satriani solo, but knew I was doing my ears damage when my head started ringing. When I walked out into the crisp March night the world was muted and didn't sound quite right until well into the next day. Oops.

When "Les Miserable" came back around the Twin Cities I wanted to go, even though I'd already seen it previously with my husband early on in our marriage. He had no interest in seeing it again (he also doesn't watch re-runs on TV, unless it's a Star Trek series), so I bought a ticket for one and went. I had forgotten how moving and tragic the music was; I cried through almost the entire thing. It didn't matter -- no one knew me.

One plus of buying a single ticket is that you can buy them at the last minute and get much closer to the stage than if you needed to buy two seats together. I sat in the 16th row at Creed with a walkway in front of me; yeay for extra space for dancing!

My sister goes to lots of events on her own. Sometimes I feel badly that I am not able to join her, but experiences like this one make me realize that it isn't lonely to go to events alone, it is freeing. I don't have to worry if someone else is enjoying him/herself, or if I've picked a place that meets his/her needs. I don't have to make extra stops for food, drink, or bathrooms, outside of what I need for myself.

I don't want to ever regret not taking in an experience because I wasn't willing to do it alone. So thank you, U2, for an unforgettable concert.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

An Open Letter to Superintendent Ed Graff and the MPS School Board

Dear Mr. Graff and the MPS Board of Education,

The chaos of the beginning of this year's school year at Southwest High School is a great example of why you don't make significant administrative changes three weeks before the school year starts.

You already know about the kids who showed up Day One with a half a schedule, or were double booked for classes in the same hour. (Hermione's time-turner, which allowed her to attend multiple classes at the same time at Hogwarts School of Wizardry, is a piece of fiction, by the way.)

Did you hear about the classes so packed that not only were there not enough chairs for students to sit, but there wasn't enough room in the classroom to put those chairs, even if they could be found?

Or students who believed that their schedules were set, only to show up on Day Two or Three and be told that they were being pulled out of one class and put into one they hadn't signed up for, to make room for students who need their spot in order to graduate?

What you probably don't know is the impact this has had on those whose schedules were set and never changed, like my daughter, an incoming freshman. People who try to dissect what's going on in our public school system talk a lot about the numbers. I want to demonstrate the impact on a single student, my daughter Lindsey.

My daughter has a 504 plan for severe anxiety disorder. Her anxiety about attending high school has been heightening ever since she entered 8th grade and realized that it was her last year of middle school. Yes, that's a full year before high school began for her.

Her care is being managed by an incredible team of medical professionals, working on nutrition, psychiatric care and therapy to help her anxiety get under control. Many days it takes all of her strength and courage just to leave the house.

She called upon that strength to attend two days of freshman orientation, and to attend the first official day of school on Wednesday with upperclassmen.

In the meantime, I had been reaching out to various people at the school to try to address the needs outlined in her 504 plan. We were not able to pull together a meeting before school started, which makes sense now, considering that the administrators who were key to this process were missing. During this time, multiple things happened at school that intensified her anxiety.

On the first day of school one of her teachers strictly told the students that once class begins she would be locking the doors and no one would be admitted without a pass. This is the day after freshman orientation, when students were told that teachers would be lenient with kids who are late to class while they figure out how to get around the school. Being locked out of a classroom is my daughter's nightmare; because she's still learning the school and didn't want to be late to any classes she didn't use a bathroom between classes for the rest of the day.

One part of her 504 plan allows her to leave a classroom if the content being discussed is triggering for her, yet none of her teachers know this, so her overall anxiety just being in the classrooms was heightened.

She thrives on structure and was excited to get started on lessons. Yet the chaos of students being moved from classroom to classroom meant that teachers were not yet starting lessons until they knew their classrooms were set. Two days of name games for everyone to learn everyone else's names? I told her to bring a book to read, but again, her teachers don't know about her 504 plan or her anxiety, so she did not feel comfortable doing so. I asked if I could email teachers directly to let them know, but she doesn't want to be "special" so she absolutely refused to let me.

A friend was suddenly re-assigned removed from a health class she had signed up for to performance theater, because the spot was needed for a graduating senior who needed the class. The uncertainty of knowing if Lindsey would have the same schedule one day to the next only made her anxiety worse.

The freshman dance, which was insensitively scheduled on Eid ul Adha, was canceled because someone finally realized it should've never been scheduled for that day in the first place. For Lindsey, that was the carrot that had been getting her through the week, and it was suddenly taken away.

Finally, Friday morning, her courage was depleted. Every day she called upon a well of strength that no one outside of her understands, and every day events happened that made her anxiety worse. I could not assure her that lessons would finally start, and I could not physically move her into attending. And so she stayed home.

She missed nearly two months of 8th grade due to her anxiety;  this is now only the 3rd day of high school and she was out of courage.

I finally got a hold of a social worker at SWHS in person on Friday, and the poor woman got the wrath of fury that she absolutely did not deserve. The staff are doing everything they possibly can on the "important AND timely" box of priorities. Because of that, my daughter's "important but NOT timely" needs did not get met.

She is now under doctor's orders to NOT attend school until we can make the environment less triggering for her. I need the school's immediate help to put her 504 plan in place ASAP so she can attend for at least part of the day.

I am a huge proponent of public schools. I believe in them, I believe that every student deserves a quality education, that our society is made better by the education of future generations. Yet my faith in MPS' ability to provide this education has been shaken, and it is not the fault of the staff at the school, who are furiously working to fill the void of these sudden absences at the top of the school.

Why would three top administrators at one of the district's largest and most successful high schools be removed three weeks before the start of the school year? How is it that the district under-estimated the attendance of the school by nearly 200 students, so that it is not properly staffed at the beginning of the year? Why can't class schedules be accurately assigned before the start of the school year?

Our family has the resources to go elsewhere, and it appears that finally, after 9 years of a public school education, we will be leaving for private schools. This makes me sad for the public schools, because those with the resources to make them better leave, and those without have no choice but to stay. And we wonder why public schools are in decline.