Schools Archives

Back to school drop offs

10Morning drop offs at school can be a bit exasperating at times. However, the next time I’m tempted to get impatient when a parent holds up the line by gazing overly long at their child as the child walks into the building  (“Please park and walk your child in!” I always mutter to myself), I will try to keep this in mind:

Martin says she recently heard from a friend in the fashion industry who had taken a rare trip to the Upper East Side. “He saw this phalanx of black Escalades parked three feet deep,” she says, “and these super-fashionable women posing and walking and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, something’s going on at Fashion Week that I don’t know about — what is this?’ It was school drop-off.”

Suddenly our school drop off, with its modest vehicles and lack of fashion and posing, seems very appealing.


Quote from New York Post regarding the book Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir

Deceased yet Consolation

It’s something of a coincidence that this week, of all weeks, my 8-year-old daughter had to master the pronunciation of the words “deceased” and “consolation.”

Thursday morning, which was also coincidentally the day 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene was laid to rest in a casket handmade by monks in Tuscon, AZ, it was my daughter’s responsibility to stand at the lectern of IHM church (she’s a student at IHM school) and read the petition for “consolation” and “for all the deceased” during the morning mass.

She landed this gig a week ago after playing Rock/Paper/Scissors with the neighbor boy, who also wanted to read this petition. She won and had been elated about that ever since, working carefully with me every evening to make sure she pronounced “consolation” and “deceased” correctly, over and over again.

A perfect refrain for the week, as it turns out.

She recited the petition perfectly that morning and I thought of Obama’s speech the night before (perhaps the first time I’ve ever been deeply moved by a presidential speech) and the part where he said we see ourselves and our children in the victims:

For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.


Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

After my daughter read the petition, Fr. Bart encouraged the kids to not lash out in anger when hurt, to instead seek healing and to help heal others. That, along with Obama’s speech, are small steps in the direction of consolation, along with the stories of the acts of heroism that occurred during the shooting.

My daughter doesn’t really yet know what the reality of being deceased means, as she hasn’t lost a loved one. She can pronounce “consolation” now but has yet to express it or experience it at a deep level.  When that day arrives, I hope, along with Obama, that this country really will live up to her (and all our children’s) expectations and that she’ll have reason to say, “We are so blessed. We have a good life,” like Christina used to say to her mother.

Memory Eternal, Christina, Dot, Dorwan, Judge Roll, Phyllis and Gabe.

Schedule of 2010-2011 IHM fish fries

The first IHM Fabulous Friday Night Fish Fry of the school year was last night. It occurred to me I should post the schedule of the remaining fish fries here.

A considerable amount of volunteer labor from parents goes into each fish fry, as the revenue from these fish fries is a major source of revenue for the school.

My two youngest children attend IHM, so I can accurately say that every parent and all of the staff at IHM are very appreciative of the people who come to the fish fries.

I’m not a member of the IHM parish, and am not Roman Catholic, yet from day one the teachers and staff there have treated us like family. This warm community atmosphere is also evident at the fish fries.

Few things say “upper midwest” more than a Friday night fish fry. Even if you can only attend one, that would be great. Here’s the schedule:

October 23rd, 2010 – Soup R Raffle
November 5th, 2010
December 3rd, 2010 – Fish Fry and Cookie Walk
January 14th, 2011
January 29th, 2011
– Spaghetti Dinner
February 11th, 2011
March 11th, 2011
April 1st, 2011
April 15th, 2011

The meal is served buffet style from 5-7:30. Takeout is also available beginning at 4:30.  Baked cod is available as well. Click here to view the full menu.


At a time when the media is concentrating on Education Nation, and the documentary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is spreading like a slow building fire into an inferno across the states, teachers at MGHS are not writing college letters of recommendation for students–a result of the dispute between teachers and the district it appears.

When our oldest son graduated from Monona Grove High School last June a neighbor who saw us returning from the graduation asked if teachers were protesting the graduation, because of the dispute. I told him they were not–teachers in Monona would not do anything to hurt the students. How innocent I must have appeared to that neighbor in the warm sunshine of June. Now, as autumn and college application season are upon us, I had to eat those words as I spoke to that same neighbor while raking leaves this past weekend. He reminded me of the conversation that we had in June as he told me teachers are not writing college recommendations. We are in a new season.

As a rule I always side with teachers. They are not paid enough. Very few teachers that I know work 8a.m.-3p.m. each day. They do work nights and weekends on their own time,without pay. Volunteer work–I suppose. A large majority of the teachers I know pay out of their own pockets for things their students and classes need.

Education Nation and WAITING FOR SUPERMAN bring to light many issues. One that seems to be a hot topic is ‘Bad Teachers’ and tenure. I have been lucky enough, or innocent enough perhaps, not to encounter many ‘bad teachers’ in my own education or the educations of our five children here in Monona. I hope that experience does not change the way the seasons tend to.

Because Wisconsin schools now have to adopt policies against bullying, and the state must provide free anti-bullying curriculum, I’ve been reflecting on how bullying affected my life as a child.

As a Gen Xer, the best way for me to think about bullying is to talk about the best “anti-bullying curriculum” of my generation…The Breakfast Club.

The movie was released in 1985 when I was a freshman in college. It’s about five high school kids who have to spend a Saturday in detention together.

On the surface, the kids each fit a certain stereotype and seem very different from each other: a criminal, athlete, princess, basket case and brain.

If you’ve never seen this movie, this short lunch scene will give you a glimpse of what the characters are like:

The movie was wildly popular and my friends and I quoted lines from it for months. Even 25 years later, if I say “Mess with the bull and you get the horns” to a college friend, it gets a laugh. I watched the movie on Netflix instant viewing last night and was amazed at how many lines I still knew and how well the movie has aged.

The reason the movie resonated with us so much is because the movie perfectly captured what high school life was like. The movie understood us.

Whenever I talk about the movie with another Gen Xer we inevitably discuss the question, “Which Breakfast Club character were you?”

In my case I was a mix of the Anthony Michael Hall character (the brain/dork) and the Ally Sheedy (the basket case) character.

The movie was therapeutic as well because it also helped us see beneath the tough exterior of bullies.

The person that bullied me in junior high and high school was much like the Emilio Estevez athlete character, right down to being a wrestler.

Of course when Bender, the criminal character, teases the jock character by saying that all you need to be on the wrestling team is a “lobotomy and some tights” I laughed and immediately wished I could have used that line with my bully back in high school.

But near the end of this movie the jock character lets down his guard and talks with shame about the act of bullying that led to his detention and said he engaged in that behavior because of anger toward his father. He hated how his father pushed him in sports.

While watching that scene I felt what I never thought I’d feel toward the boy who bullied me…empathy.

At the end of the movie, the essay the brain character wrote for detention is read out loud. It says that by the end of the detention they realized that each of them was a criminal, princess, athlete, basket case and brain combined.

Or as the athlete Emilio Estevez character said earlier in the movie, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”

Getting to that place of understanding is the key to overcoming bullying. I’m grateful to John Hughes for helping my generation in that regard and am hopeful that the new policies in Wisconsin will help this generation.

While we were growing up our parents told us how well off we were. It often started with a ‘WHEN WE WERE KIDS…” statement.

While we listened to their tales of walking miles to school in the snow and cold we felt lucky–although we also walked miles in the cold and snow. We were better off than our parents had been when they were growing up, it seemed. That gave us, and our parents, a sense of comfort. I am not sure that is still true.

A recent school board meeting here in Monona included the topic of bullies. I am well versed in the topic of bullies. When I was in school I attracted bullies. But somehow the bullies these days seem different than the ones I dealt with.

For nearly a decade now this new brand of bullies have been on the horizon. We had student shootings at schools. Those shootings were caused we were told, in part, by bullies who made the lives of the shooters terrible.

More recently we have had a rash of students ending their own lives because they are not able to deal with the bullies. At times adults have even become involved, using the computer to bully teens to their death. After these deaths the bullies continue.

This past winter after a high school girl in Boston ended her life the bullies wrote bad things on her ‘memory page’ for her friends and family to read.

In February I had an email from my high school reunion site. I had no desire to connect with anyone from high school but the email took me there. It pulled me in. I found myself writing a few messages to people. They wrote back. The best thing that happened was that I was able to write long overdue ‘thank you’ notes to people who I needed to thank.

When I was in high school I was lucky because of the proximity of my locker to Terry Mullin. His locker was next to mine. Terry was on the football team. As bullies punched me and kicked my books down the hall, or poured chocolate milk over me, Terry and other members of the football team stood up for me. One of them was always looking out for me it seemed. That made life bearable.

This winter the email from my high school allowed me to thank Terry Mullin. It prompted me to write to other members of the football team. Their messages back to me were great. I wrote to the drama club because people in that group helped me along the way also. All winter we enjoyed new relations as fifty-year-old men and women. By early spring I had a whole new version of my time in high school.

As I watched the Monona School Meeting on television with my teenagers we talked about my experience and the experience they are having–that they see others having. In the end we wondered if bullies were really that different now or not.

Too often these days it seems there is not a Terry Mullin or football team, drama club or others, there for the students the bullies target. Perhaps that is the biggest difference from then to now.

By having a meeting that includes the topic of bullies Monona seems to be taking a step toward encouraging people to stand up for the victims bullies target. I like that idea, embrace the thought that at fifty a student here in Monona might be writing a thank you to someone who made their life during high school bearable. If this conversation continues our kids have the opportunity to have it as good as we did.

News at Ten: Monona Schools…

Seeing the Monona School Board meetings on the local television news lately has left me thinking back upon my experience with the schools in our town.

I arrived in Monona in shock. The youngest two of our five children were born with Treacher Collins Syndrome. Michaela and Wyatt both had tracheotomies and were tube-fed.

The first months of their lives our only interest was keeping them alive. Michaela was a year and -a-half when we moved to Monona. Wyatt was six months old.

A band of nurses and therapists arrived with us. They descended upon our home each day the way a SWAT team would. When we arrived in shock Monona received us.

During that first summer the library took us in. Various parks kept us happy. The Monona Pool taught our three oldest to swim. In the fall one of the therapists urged me to put our daughters into school. They were three and four years old at the time.

When I said I was not ready for them to go to school because I missed doing all I wanted to, busy keeping Michaela and Wyatt alive, the school principal from Maywood came to our home with a group of teachers. We sat around my kitchen table and talked it out for an entire morning.

By the end of it I felt comfortable sending the girls to school at Maywood. It was one of the best decisions I ever made–for them.

All five of our kids have gone to school in Monona. When Wyatt and Michaela had surgery to remove trachs and feeding tubes the teachers at Maywood brought meals to our home for three weeks.

During their recovery the principal from Nichols drove our oldest son home in the middle of the day when he was sick because I was home with recovering kids–without a car. A few years later when our oldest son decided to try Edgewood for high school Monona Grove High School welcomed him when he realized it was not the right choice for him.

This school year two experiences I’ve had reminded me of the gift Monona has–the teachers.

In December Wyatt and I arrived to Winnequah School to find a smoke event going on. Because there was no fire danger we were brought into the gym to avoid the sub-zero temps outdoors. Teachers arrived unsure of what was happening, their daly routines out of wack. Instantly they began singing songs with the students–giving them a sense of normal in a situation that was not.

In the middle of the winter a family I know made a sudden decision to take their children out of the schools in Monona because they had moved to a new community. It was a difficult experiece for everyone made easier by teachers who said goodbye with loving gestures, their arms extended open for future visits. The family has returned to visit, speaking often of the good quality education Monona provided.

I arrived to Monona in shock. Monona took us in. The Monona schools welcomed, embraced, nourished, educated our five children–and prepared them for who they will be. This is what the schools in Monona are. Not a headline run across the local news at night.