Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dawn Hits the Road Less Traveled

Well. ladies and gentlemen, Dawn made it to O'Hare today. Gracias a Dios. She and her mom told me she was up all last night packing. I got up at 5:30 a.m., splashed off, got dressed and was just grabbing a couple of granola bars when she called saying she was ready to go.

Her mom and her little bitty brother and I all went with her. Her mom handed me the keys and said, "You driving?" Sure. I knew I would be. I have driven to O'Hare before, but I'd never had to park there. Traffic on the Dan Ryan was terrible at 6 a.m. I got off at 43rd and went over to King Drive to get downtown and pick up 90/94 from there. It was slow to the airport from there but not terrible. We got there just a little after 7 a.m. for an 8:55 flight. She had to check bags, so I went in with her and she said goodbye to her mom and brother at the car in the parking lot (Cubs level). She and her mom gave each other two or three big hugs.

I was nervous about airport security since she only has her school ID. She's only 15 years old, for God's sake. She was asking me about bag claim and how that works as we were going on the moving walkway under the terminals. She'd never been to O'Hare before. "It's big," she said, wide-eyed on the escalator into the terminal.

"Welcome to O'Hare," I said as we came up to the bag claim level. She laughed. I went to the counter with her while she checked luggage and stayed in line with her right up until she was going to security. I promised I would watch until she was going to the gate. She smiled when she spotted me as she was waiting to go through the metal detector. When she was done and had her carry-on back, she gave me a big wave. I waved back. She headed to the left--the right way for the gate, and gave me a last wave and a big smile before she went out of sight. Yay!

Dawn's mom and brother and I stopped for breakfast on the way back. We went to Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square and we ran into the sister-in-law of someone from our block! I went and said hello to her (she speaks more English than Spanish). Dawn's mom was saying she is really happy Dawn is doing this trip and hopes she will learn a lot from it. She really looks to her daughter as the one who will go places and do things her own parents stopped her from doing. She wanted to continue her education in Mexico past upper elementary school/junior high but her father said no.

I gave them a quick tour of Uptown, my old neighborhood, after breakfast. "This is our trip," I said. She asked how much houses cost up there and was shocked when I told her my house would cost at least double in Uptown compared to what it cost in our neighborhood.

There's no trip news yet, but check "Ridges and Rapids I" on the link for how her trip is going, if you are interested.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What Will It Take?

What Will It Take? is the Chicago Foundation for Women's campaign to make Illinois the safest state in the U.S. for women and girls. That's where the ad on the Orange Line came from. You can see the ad here.

Elsewhere on the site you can view stats on different kinds of violence against girls and women, find hotlines for important services, comment on discussion boards and even sign up to volunteer. They even have a men's initiative that is hosting a forum tomorrow on whether art and media cause violence against women and girls.

The project continues all year, so check back to their site for more events if you are interested. They've made a real effort to connect to this community, speaking at Peace and Education meeting and holding an event at West Side Tech that was well-publicized to groups here.

Cornell Park Soccer

...wasn't quite what I was hoping for. Joey was the only one who showed up, though some other kids had already registered. They gave us a registration form and he and I filled it out together, except for the part for a parent's signature. There was a pickup game going on at the far end of the park, so I suggested he go play.

While Joey was playing pickup soccer since the official soccer wasn't happening, I had to get on a conference call for something work-related. So wow, I'm a fake soccer mom! On a conference call in the park while the kids play soccer. Whoda thunk you'd see that in Cornell Park? Joey did a pretty good job as goalie, then they let him play forward for a while.

The unfortunate wrinkle about playing from 2:30 to 3:30 is it is sunny and hot. Joey got a little wiped out from the heat and sun, so he bowed out and lay down under the tree where I was listening in on my call. I didn't have much to say on this call, so I could go get him water. I just hope they didn't hear all the kid noise when I went in the field house to get a cup.

Apparently Cornell Park has two gyms for basketball and such, but no weight room. It has a pool, too. Swimming lessons are free. I should ask if Joey wants to do that. He wants to box but it's full at Davis Square and Cornell doesn't offer it. I asked him if he wanted to do karate, but he said no. Shoot.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Holy Cross Goes High Tech

Today after the 10 o'clock Mass, about half a dozen Holy Cross/IHM college and high school students set up their laptops on tables in the church parking lot and helped parishioners send emails supporting immigration reform to Illinois senators and representatives. Afterwards they estimated about 100 people had stopped by the tables. They're going to do it again next Sunday.

There's a handy list of action alerts about recent issues and legislation on the National Council of La Raza web site. If you want to do what they did today, click on the third one down: "SENATE VOTES TO DERAIL IMMIGRATION REFORM."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"I Need a Vacation"

That's my new code phrase with Dawn. She showed up on my doorstep Sunday night and asked if she could stay over. "Sure," I said. Then I thought twice and asked, "What's up?"

"I did something bad," she told me.

"Go work it out with your parents and come back," I said. She didn't come back. Not for a whole day. Ouch. I will spare us all the drama associated with that.

Tonight we sat for a good long while on my back porch talking. She explained some of what happened over the weekend. More teen pushing-the-envelope stuff. Nothing really all that earth-shaking in the grand scheme, but as we talked about last night, we live in a neighborhood (and a time, and a world) where small mistakes can have much bigger consequences than anyone could imagine.

I suggested we need a way to make sure I get it when she needs me as much as she did Sunday night.

"So I should just tell you, right?" Dawn said.

"Yeah, but that's hard to do when you're stressed out, right?" She nodded.

"So, how about a code phrase? Like, if you come over and say, 'I need a vacation,' then I'll know I should just drop everything and let you in." She laughed. It seems like she liked it. Hope it works if there's a next time. Better yet, I'm really hoping there's not a next time, at least not quite like this last one.

We also talked about the other problem that made me hesitant to open the door last night. I asked my tenant to leave today. I think I posted earlier that he seemed like less trouble than Hurricane Alberto. Well, he was, except he drinks. A few hours before Dawn showed up on my doorstep, my now ex-tenant had been sitting there too drunk to move. He came in the house eventually and wanted to chat. Pretty quickly I had a sense of deja vu so strong I just snapped out with, "I grew up in a house with a drunk. I swore I'd never live that way again. You have to move out!"

"Oh, wow," he said, and left me alone.

Although I was pretty sure he was sleeping it off by the time Dawn showed up, it was the only night I've been here that I wasn't sure it was safe for her to be in the house. He left today. I had actually given him a month's notice through a note this morning, but he just went ahead and took off.

I need a vacation. Seriously, no code about it. And I'm leaving for one pretty soon. I was hoping to have someone in the house while I was gone. There's been a rash of break-ins around the neighborhood recently. My other next-door neighbors were broken into this afternoon. Well, one good thing about knowing neighbors is there are a number of eyes on the house when I'm not here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Big Picture Graduation

Big Picture graduated its first class tonight, with 23 students crossing the stage in a room full of cheers and tears, starting with the first grad to file in. She entered to "Pomp and Circumstance" with tears running down her cheeks.

It's a Big Picture tradition that instead of one or two student speakers, each student takes the microphone for a few words. Here are some of them:

"I want to say thank you for letting me come to this school."

"People here trusted me."

"I know I was always complaining, 'Mayra this, Mayra that,' but she really pushed me."

"I want to thank Nambo, my six-years teacher."

"Gracias a mi mama."

"Thanks to my parents, who always believed in me."

"I didn't always think I'd be on this stage today."

"Thank you to the people who treated me like a daughter and stayed with me when I didn't think I would make it."

"I want to thank my first advisor, who gave me a lot of advice and encouraged me to stay in school."

One student choked up so much he couldn't say part of his speech, so Theo said it for him: "I will miss all the friends I made here."

"I want to thank the universe. I know that sounds weird. ... Thanks to my parents, and to God."


The graduation speaker was Nancy Serrano. Nancy grew up in Back of the Yards, north of Holy Cross Church. She was one of eight children whom her mother raised alone. She graduated from DePaul University and came back to Seward Elementary, her old grammar school, where she taught for seven years. She taught some of the graduates when they were 7th- and 8th-graders. She was featured in an article in the Chicago Reader a few years ago. She now mentors beginning teachers for Illinois State University.

Nancy took the mike off the podium, walked over to the graduates and addressed them directly. She talked about her experiences, especially the struggles she faced when she first started college, then challenged the graduates to follow her example and come back to the neighborhood once they have college degrees: "You have to represent us. The only way Back of the Yards is going to change is if you come back to the Yards. ... I want to come back in four or five years, when one of you is the graduation speaker, when you are leading trips with students from this school."

The class of 07 at Big Picture has two Golden Apple scholarship winners, one going to Dominican, one to Illinois State. Another grad is going to U of I to study animal science. About ten are going to City Colleges of Chicago. One will enter Washburne Culinary Institute. One of the great things about a small high school is everyone can cheer for each of their grads as long as they want. And we did.

Afterwards, many in the audience went to take a look at the autobiographies the grads wrote about themselves. One woman (I'd guess a grandmother or aunt), commented while leafing through a bound autobiography, "I'm going to fight for this school now. This is what we need here. It's crazy to close this down."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Too Much at Once

A collection of random thoughts today:

Check out the billboard at the Ashland Orange Line Stop. The Chicago Foundation for Women is a cosponsor of a campaign about violence against women that features a diverse group of people making various comments about how they can help stop this problem. One of them is Fr. Bruce Wellems, playing a sports coach. Basketball? He says something about how he can work with his team, but I forget the specific. It was funny--I saw it getting off the train and I was like, "Is that Bruce?...Oh, let me see if it's related to Chicago Foundation for Women." Susy Schultz, their communications director, is a friend of his. So that's the connection.

I hadn't been over to Dawn's house in ages, despite the fact they live next door. (I've been writing for pay, not for fun, at night for much of the last month, it seems.) Joey came over here and wrote something very quickly we can take to his evaluation tomorrow, and I found some books in the house for him to arrange in order of easy, medium, hard. It would be nice if he had actually read them, I suppose. Sigh. His voice is changing. Dear God I hope we get him in San Miguel. His mom didn't hear him come in the house--he went over there before I did when we finished--and she immediately assumed he just hadn't come home. Ay, Dios mio.

Someone who knows me but I don't know her was over with her daughter. I think her daughter knows me too--or else she's just really friendly-she gave me a big smile when I walked in. We talked a bit in Spanish. She was very nice about my Spanish. She asked if I was American and I said Irish, my grandmother came over and I'm going back to see my great-aunts this summer. I had some calabaza--it looked like zucchini--it was spicy and good. For once I ate healthier over there than I would have here. I was planning to eat nachos at home but the calabaza and a couple of tortillas was plenty!

After some chow and chat with the grownups, I went back in the living room to watch TV and hang with the kids, especially baby Angel, who I hadn't seen in way too long. Dawn had her packet of info from the Road Less Traveled and we started looking through it. Then she told me there's a parent meeting tomorrow at 11:45. I tried to sound calmer than I felt when I said, "Your mom will be with me and Joey then. This thing doesn't end til noon and it's downtown." Then we started figuring out how they would do this. Her dad gets home about 8 a.m. (he works 10 pm to 6 am these days, God love him). He'll just have to stay up, I guess, so one parent can go to the Road Less Traveled meeting and one can go with me and Joey. Dawn says most of the time her dad sleeps from three to nine or so before he goes to work. Ugh.

Then Dawn and I started talking about tomorrow's travel. As I suspected, if her mom and Angel go with me, I'll have to drive them downtown and park in the Grant Park garage. (Her mom is probably not up to driving in an underground garage, which I can understand.) Good thing I took out some cash tonight--the garage parking is not cheap. The thing is, I'll have to drive the car back out and pull over somewhere so her mom can take over the wheel and go home. Dawn thinks her mom can navigate her way home OK. I was worried I'd have to drive her out of downtown back to familiar territory, and then I'd be embarrassingly late to my afternoon meeting. If her dad decides to go with me I don't know what we'll do. Maybe he'll drive around and look for street parking while we go in. That would be easier on me since he could just deal with the car afterwards. Bueno, vamos a ver...

I should do a separate post about Dawn's exhibition. At her house tonight we were talking about what else happened today at school. They had a discussion about GPA's today--she wants to get hers up. It's a 2.4 now. I told her she needs to shoot for a 3.0. Her buddy Gladys leads the class with a 3.5. Dawn said she was surprised when she realized how high Gladys' average was. "I'm not surprised," I laughed. I know a fellow geek when I see one.

While we were talking about Road Less Traveled stuff and I was explaining various things, like what an unaccompanied minor is, the little girl visiting asked me, "Are you a tutor?"

"No," I said. "I live next door."

"She's Aunt Maureen," Dawn told her.

"A very geeky, nerdy aunt," I said.

"Naw," said Dawn, smiling.

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