With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, May 23, 2011

How Much Do I Love U2 . . .

. . .let me count the ways. I love the anthemic songs that rock floorboards in Invesco Field, the open spirituality, requests for prayers and volunteers sandwiched between songs, the flagrant showmanship and amazing voice of Bono, and the legendary, chiming guitar chords of the Edge. If you ascertained from these first gushing sentences that I recently attended a U2 concert you would be correct. My younger sister and husband and good friend had great seats on Saturday night and the night could have gone on forever as far as I was concerned.

Before running on with more loving anti-criticism about U2, let me say that the opening band, The Fray, was excellent. Their sound definitely held up in the stadium, and they looked good even playing in the sunlit late afternoon. We actually had a clear evening after four days or so of rain, and neither Karen nor I needed the warm coats we had brought with us - we were dancing too hard to feel cold, anyway.

The energy was terrific and most of the people around us stood for the whole two hour show. We didn't stand so much as jump, fist-pump, scream and hug . . .hopefully not obscuring the view of folks behind us. It was truly awesome to experience U2 with my sister for the first time. I have seen the band in the past with my brother John and SIL Carol at Soldier's Field and with my brother James here in Denver, but never before with Karen, who is also a die-hard fan. We're only four years apart so have memories tied to their songs going back to the 80's - a scarily long time ago now. Our favorite joint U2 memory is associated with the song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," as we sang it to ourselves one afternoon in Ireland as I got us lost on an extremely long hike. I had taken Karen to Ireland for her graduation from college at Villanova, and we hiked almost every day (which she still holds against me.) Anyway, we did struggle on in the mud for several hours that day, but the memory of singing U2 in Ireland was well worth the price of comfort and a few hours of free time.

We texted all three of our brothers during the show and got enthusiastic and jealous responses from all. (Two of them have already been to a show on this tour). John asked, "have you found what you're looking for?" to which my husband replied, "say, he's sitting right next to you." Upon which John wittily retorted (via text): "on the street with no name?" So it was a family affair with fun had by all. I referred to this in an earlier post - how music can truly bring people together. We all resonate to different chords, songs, or performances and all have unique memories attached to the music, but the shared emotion and energy raise everyone up to a new level. Thanks to the boys from Ireland for a fabulous time!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rise Up

I had the great good fortune to visit my brother and his family in Chicago this past weekend. Though the Windy City lived up to its name, and temperatures dropped forty degrees on my arrival, our extended family had a delightful time. We gathered to celebrate the First Communion of my niece and god-daughter, who handled the excitement and attention beautifully. It was a gift to deepen my relationships with my two nephews and two nieces, though I missed my own kiddos and knew that they would want to spend time with their cousins, as well. Something about family ties . . .they pull on even the youngest children. My brother and his wife, Carol, do a great job of showing pictures of relatives and of telling stories about us (for good or evil) so the kids feel they know us well.

My two favorite events from the weekend were running a 5k race with my niece and her mom, my lovely sister-in-law and partner in training for the Chicago marathon, and visiting the charter school where Carol works, Polaris. We ran the cold and blustery race early on Saturday morning, right on Lake Michigan, with a group of parents and students from Julia's elementary school, Old St. Mary's. The students had been training with two of their teachers, who organized the school's participation in the race. What a fabulous idea; to not only recruit kids and parents to run the race, but to actually train them at school so they feel united as a team as well as prepared physically. My niece did a fabulous job, running the whole thing and only stopping at water stations (she is 8 years old). Despite our frozen fingers and windblown hats we had a great time.

The Polaris event took place on Friday afternoon, when the whole school (K - 5) gathered for an assembly called Community Circle. They apparently meet each Monday to discuss goals for the week, and then reconvene Friday afternoon to discuss progress. The youthful and energetic cofounder who led the meeting talked to the kids about both their strengths and some need for improvement, and then he turned it over to the best part of the assembly - annointing new "Light Leaders." A Light Leader is a person who exemplifies the traits that Polaris founders want to see in their school; leadership, integrity, hard work, compassion, optimism. Apparently they had not had a new Light Leader in several weeks so the excitement in the gym was palpable. The first Light Leader to be called out was a teacher's assistant in the kindergarten, and when her name was announced the cheers were deafening. The students stood and she ran two laps around the gym giving high fives to all, while there was no let up in the noise. Carol, my parents and I immediately teared up as the victory laps continued, and I really almost lost it when the young woman mounted a victory podium on the stage and chanted, "Po - lar - is!" to which the kids responded at the top of their lungs, "RISE UP! RISE UP!"

I was so undone that I could hardly compose myself to watch my younger brother (6'3" and not a dancer) attempting to get down with the students as they celebrated the past week's birthdays. My struggle to regain composure was further sabotaged by the announcement of a second Light Leader, a young girl who looked to be in third grade. Her mother was in front of us, wiping her own eyes with pride. We were nearly the only white faces in the crowd, as Polaris draws from a neighborhood in transition, predominantly African-American, which shut down the underperforming public school formerly in the building in favor of this new charter. When the school started, very few of the children could do math or read at grade level, and now both assessments are well over 50%. It was inspiring and tear-jerking to watch the sea of brown faces radiating energy and taking full advantage of this opportunity to shine.

I'm even choked up writing about that assembly. It was an awesome thing to behold a gym full of students so excited and passionate about their school, their teachers, themselves. I wish every student in this country could have a chance to feel that passion for their education and their community. I'd like to send everyone at Polaris a thank you for letting us attend their assembly and best wishes for a great end to the school year. Thanks also to John and Carol and their family for a terrific weekend. Rise up, everyone!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Starting School

"All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads." - Wernher von Braun

My fingers have almost recovered from the death grip put on them by my five-year-old at his kindergarten orientation last night. Alternately clinging to my hand and clamping down on my leg, he peered out at the multitude of children, parents, and teachers gathered to contemplate the requirements and upcoming rewards of kindergarten. I was so proud when he managed to say hello to his teachers with good eye contact and a firm handshake, but that was all the energy he could muster. His worries and excitement must have run him ragged because he slept 12 hours last night and I still had to drag him out of bed in the morning.

In the peaceful lull before the children woke up today, I read through letters from our two sponsored students in Guatemala. We sponsor a lovely young lady who is the same age as our oldest daughter, and a little boy the same age as our middle child. I paused at this sentence from Wendy, who was responding to a long-ago letter of ours explaining Daniel's surgery for tubes in his ears: "I'm sorry about Danny. I hope he can get well soon. With my family, my father had a toothache, and was also one of those trapped when a bus was held up. Thank God nothing really bad happened except for fearing for his life."

My coffee mug hit the table with a thud. I had just barely registered the pain of a toothache in a village without dentistry when I had to imagine being held up on a bus at gunpoint. No wonder Wendy has compassion and faith beyond her years. Her daily routine contains far more than school attendance and homework. Our other student, Henry, mentioned how he has to get up really early because his school is thirty minutes away. He also mentions his disbelief and gratitude for attending this school. The letter, however, was written by his aunt as Henry cannot yet write. I hope this is the year when he receives that gift.

Hard to contrast the full gymnasium and resource-filled classrooms that we visited last night with the realities for many young children around the globe, whose gifts and intelligence are not used or developed. Strange to think that my eight-year-old begged a ride home from school yesterday with a friend because the temperature had dropped a bit and he didn't feel like walking, while Henry walks 30 minutes each way while giving thanks. I am so grateful for the opportunity to send my children to a good school, so grateful for the gift of our resources and for the opportunity to send other children to school, as well. May God bless Henry and Wendy as they put their abilities to work, and may he keep their families safe.

**If you are interested in sponsoring children in Guatemala, please visit www.puravida.org.