Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Turn Back the Clock

Moderately big news around here...we're getting a special visitor this summer (probably). I got a call last week from Tinkerbelle's mother, warning me that Tinkerbelle was going to ask me if she could come and spend the summer. Her Mom wanted to give me a heads-up in case I wanted to say no and needed some time to prepare an answer other than "I really don't feel like having a grumpy teenager around"!

[In case you've forgotten in the year that I have been away;-), Tinkerbelle is my other little sister that I never knew about or met until she was about seven. She's not a petulant fifteen year old!]

My first instinct is to jump right in and tell her yes...because it would be awesome! I have always wanted to spend more time with her and have struggled to be as involved with her as I would like to be. Obviously, a full-immersion summer would be a great way to fix that...living with someone is a whole different experience than visiting. Plus, she'd get all kinds of time to be around the nieces that she doesn't see more than a couple of weeks a year.

There are a couple of sticking points. One of them, however, is not The Boy, who is entirely on board. He's used to having teenagers around, and he knows how much I feel like I have missed out with her. He may also see the value in having a pinch-babysitter when we need her:-)

It does sort of get to one of the issues, though...Tinkerbelle is NOT Munchkin. The Boy - along with Smoking Hot Roommate, Big Sis and Munchkin - have all made reference, at one point of another, to how much fun Munchkin's teenage years have been. She's lived at the beach, had a bunch of jobs, traveled a lot and lived under a somewhat flexible web of supervision.

I never had a problem with her being at the beach all summer for two reasons. First, she was always incredibly mature and responsible. Second, there was usually someone from her circle of authority figures there with here. I was there on weekends, Big Sis was maybe there for a couple days during one week, SHR the next week, The Boy sometimes, Papa Bear other times. She always had a lot of people fill various parts of the role of "parent" and there was generally at least one of them around.

Tinkerbelle is neither as responsible as Munchkin was (she is, in fact, a pretty normal teenager... Munchkin was the outlier), nor does she have the same relationships that Munchkin does. If she is here, I will be the authority figure and there won't really be any substitutes (except for maybe The Boy). Which is fine, I just have to keep that in mind as they all try to convince me that this will be the best summer ever!

So, I told her yes, because I really, really want to have her, but I gave her some conditions. First, she can't be at the beach all summer. I won't be able to take time off to be with her enough to make that workable. Munchkin will be there, which would help (Tinkerbelle absolutely idolizes her, and she is unquestionably mature enough to be the parent) but I don't know yet what her travel plans will be, other than to know that she will have some and they will be spectacular. And, that would sort of defeat the point...I want to be around her all summer, not just every weekend and a couple of full weeks.

That means she will need to be in Boston with something to keep her busy (read: a job), but that will leave her free on weekends because we are still going to be at the beach as much as we can. I'm thinking that a camp counselor job would be perfect...it would keep her busy, give her a little money and let her meet some friends. Even if she found some kind of a job in a store that was a couple of days a week, I'd be fine with her doing that and taking a class or volunteering or something to keep her engaged otherwise.

Mostly? I want to see that she can make a plan and make it happen. I know she wants to come out here, but I need her to be serious about her own plans and mine. If she can make the phone calls that she has to in order to line up her own schedule, then I am all for her coming out! But I am not going to do it for her, and her Mom isn't going to do it for her...coming here would mean more freedom and responsibility than she is used to, and I'd like to see that she understands that and is ready for it.

I think she will make it work...she really, really wants to. And, I think it will be good for her...she struggles with all of the regular stuff that kids that age struggle with around teenage social issues. She has had some (minor) issues with school and could use a couple of months to take in some new surroundings and make some new friends that she hasn't been in school with since she was five. Honestly, I think she and her Mom can use the break, too. Being a single mother of a teenager is tough, and they get at each other like any other parent and kid do...I think the time away will help them appreciate each other. I hope so, at least:-)

So, that's that...as long as she can find a job, she's coming for pretty much all of July and August! Wish me luck:-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Is it 2016 already?

Looks like the 2016 Presidential race is already heating up...cue the civics geek posts!!! By now, you all know that my love of the sport of politics is pretty intense, and this cycle is going to be a 2008-style doozy. Open seat, huge divisions, lots of aspirants...it's like an 18 month Christmas!!!

So, first of all, I am going to make a somewhat bold prediction: Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee. I'm not sure that I am totally sold on that, but it is too easy to simply say that she won't win, so I am going out onto a smaller limb and saying that she won't even be nominated. I don't know who will beat her (Jim Webb? Elizabeth Warren?), but I don't think she wins the nomination.

The reason? Because, quite simply, the left will decide who gets nominated, and the left doesn't like her. They don't trust her, and they haven't, in the nearly 30 years that they have known her, ever seen a whole lot that excites them about her. She's never been at the forefront on any social issues, she is an unabashed war hawk, she has almost no tangible accomplishments, and her campaign will almost certainly be funded by the same people who funded her 2000 and 2006 Senate and 2008 Presidential campaigns: New York-based financial services executives and lawyers. Or, in Liz Warren shorthand: "Wall Street".

She is currently the favorite mostly because she seems to be the most likely to win, and because it looks like she will be the left's de facto choice in a general election. But that support is really shallow: for now, they kind of tolerate her, but they would LOVE to have a candidate who reflects better on the issues that they care about. You know what else? She is old, uninspiring and she is a habitual liar (even on the scale of politicians!). I don't know whether Elizabeth Warren will run, and I think she is almost certainly unelectable...but she is the kind of candidate that the left WANTS to support, not the kind (like Hillary) that they feel an obligation to defend even when she does the indefensible (private email, for example).

And seeing the two of them on a stage together would be disaster for Hillary. Clinton will try to seem measured and unoffensive and diplomatic and inevitable. Warren will be fiery and she will speak eloquently and passionately about all of the things that Democrats believe and wish they could say in the same words that she uses. She'll rip into the big banks that everyone of those voters hates (sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly) and force Clinton to defend some incredibly unpopular institutions - institutions that paid for her campaign.

So, my outrageous prediction of the day is that Hillary consistently polls at astronomical levels well over 60%, regardless of who runs against her. Then, sometime late this year, as the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire engages, that support will start to dissipate, and then it will collapse spectacularly as the voters in those states become the first to challenge her coronation. Write it down!

On the Republican side, it is a much more interesting race because there are so many disparate candidates. Ted Cruz is in. Scott Walker will be in. So will Rand Paul. Marco Rubio probably. Jeb Bush almost certainly. Christ Christie maybe.  Governors, retired governors, moderates, conservatives, libertarians...this race will have them all!

My guess is that Christie, Bush and Rubio will get the initial press, and will be over-rated by the pundit class. Christie because they know him in New York and they assume that what the GOP really needs to win is a moderate (they're wrong), Bush because of his family name (truth be told, he would have been a much better President than his brother, but the ship has sailed) and Rubio because he is a fantastic orator, has a great story and looks exciting. Rand Paul will also get a lot of attention, but he will prove a little more worthy of it...he is a different kind of voice in this race.

The national media will scoff at Scott Walker as a small-time provincial voice with a lazy eye and no college degree. They will ignore his proven appeal as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who wins elections in a progressive state. They will scoff at Cruz, calling him a reactionary bible-thumper, ignoring his consistent message, underrated eloquence and remarkable debate skills.

As long as we are making all kinds of predictions, I will guess that they all run (maybe not Christie), and that Rubio and Bush fade first. Paul will have a solid base of support, but he will spook too many on the right with his Libertarian tendencies. Republicans aren't going to like seeing him co-sponsor sentencing reform bills with Corey Booker any more than Democrats are going to like Hillary Clinton telling them that we can't make friends with Iran.

When it is all said and done, I think Walker and Cruz will be the last two candidates standing, and I'm not totally sure who wins. But, that's my outrageous, uninformed prediction for the day, and I am going with it!*

*Subject to change at any time for any reason:-)

Monday, March 23, 2015

More Schools

Good comment from Nilsa on my last post, and my response was getting too long, so I am just going to post it. First, the comment:

"Wait wait wait, are you trying to tell me that by putting your kids in private school, they'll "be around people who look and talk and think differently than they do."????? Or you're saying that by living in the city that happens and by putting them in private school, you ensure they get a great education?"
And yea, that didn't really come across as I meant to write it, I guess;-). Because no, kids in private schools are not going to come across a whole lot of diversity in the classroom. Well, certainly not socio-economic diversity, at least...my sister's school (where the girls will probably go) has a remarkably broad mix of races, ethnicities and religions; it does not have much in the way of economic diversity.

I mean that cities do that for kids. If lived in, say Weston or Dover or some other town like that, the kids would see the same kids at school for 12 years, and they would also see those same kids in their youth soccer and basketball leagues, and in dance classes, and at church (just pretend I go to church) and in girl scouts, etc. It would be pretty difficult to avoid that, since many of those programs are specifically limited to kids within that town.

My sister basically went to school with the same kids from 4th through 12th grade, and they were FAR from a cross-section of humanity. But she played little league with kids from Roxbury and basketball with kids from Allston and Brighton, her very brief foray into Girl Scouts was mostly with girls in Cambridge (which isn't technically Boston, but whatever:-P) and she did some summer camps with kids from everywhere in Boston. Those were very often kids who lived very, very different lives than the kids she spent her days with...and it is hard to replicate that outside of an urban environment.

Beyond that, it just has to do with what you see on a daily basis. Walk into a Starbucks in Needham, and you will see an awful lot of people who live in Needham...and chances are they have a world view pretty similar to everyone else in the store. Walk into a Starbucks in Downtown Crossing, however, and who knows what the hell you'll find. Mind you, that is pretty obviously NOT always good.  Most of the suburbs in question are safe and welcoming and provide a communal commitment to nurturing kids that can be absent in a city. I could never tell my 10 year old sister to ride her bike to soccer practice, for example. Frankly, I'd never have let her walk into Starbucks in Downtown Crossing by herself, either! That's a pretty scary idea.

But growing up riding public transit? Having the major museums and the theater district across the Common? And being able to drop in for some authentic dim sum beforehand?  Walking to school among professionals on their way to work? Seeing waves of tourists from every corner of the world on a daily basis? And the constant mass of students? I like all of that. I want my kids to think that is totally normal.

{Warning - we are entering the "overly broad racial generalizations" portion of this post}

There is another peculiarity about Boston...there are very few places to live where you will truly get a cross-section of the populace. The city itself is diverse at the macro level, but not so much at the neighborhood level. Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the South End? You'll see lots of different faces and hear a lot of different accents, but you won't find many poor people. Allston, Brighton, South Boston, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, West Roxbury? There is a lot of economic breadth in those places, and varying age demographics...what there is not a lot of are brown people.  Roxbury, Mattapan, Mission Hill? They are as dark as the other places are white.

The suburbs are, broadly, very white. The biggest exception is probably Brookline, which is the most racially diverse, but also the most expensive (it's geographically the closest, and it draws much of its diversity from the area's many doctors and professors). The burbs tend to be affluent, and the minorities tend to be mostly Asians that went to the same schools and have the same jobs as everyone else  That's an oversimplification, but the general idea is that there are very, very few places around Boston that are truly diverse, multicultural places. The ones that are...Quincy, maybe Dedham...don't have the school systems that make the others so attractive.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I am concerned about raising sheltered kids. I didn't lead a sheltered life, and I think I am better for it. I did my best to make sure that my sister didn't, either, and she is better for it, too.  Is it the answer for everyone? No, and I'd never tell anyone else what they can or should do. I know plenty of people who grew up in those lovely suburbs (like, um, the husband in question!) who turned out to be be perfectly well-adjusted adults, and plenty of people who's kids will do great by those towns. But, it's what my husband and I think is best for us and our kids, and it's what we're gonna do...tuition be damned!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

School Days

Lovely to touch base with some of you that I have lost contact with (Hi Ally, Hi Nilsa!)...and you're already giving me more blog ideas! That means two posts in one week...watch out for other signs of the apocalypse...

On Monday, I noted that the girls start school in the fall, and that we hadn't yet ironed out the details, but that it will almost certainly mean private school..."I'd rather not spend that kind of money on elementary school, but that's the price of urban living, I guess."

Nilsa, who's son is just a little younger than the girls, responded because she faces an almost identical circumstance: "I HATE THAT! It's the exact same way in Chicago. The public school system is a mess. ...  It's exactly why we WILL vacate the city next year. We will not pay property taxes for a school system we do not use."

First of all, I can confirm, firsthand, her impressions of the Chicago Public Schools;-). If it's data you want, Zillow offers rankings of schools as a part of its data set, and of the 127 public High Schools in their database in Chicago, 37 of them are currently rated 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. Yes, you read that right...1/3 of the public high schools have the lowest possible rating!!! (BTW...I graduated from one of them...Class of '01 Whoop!). The results in Boston are pretty similar...22 public high schools have ratings, and six of them are 1's. Making the story even worse...the only schools that have scores above 3 are admission schools - public schools, but kids have to test into them.

The basic message being clear: we pay a lot of money for our schools (Boston spend over $20,000 per pupil, an extraordinarily high figure) and those schools are terrible. So terrible, in fact, that concerned parents of school-aged children, people like Nilsa and her husband, tend to flee the city if they can find any way to do so. They flee for the near suburbs which, in Boston at least, boast some of the country's best public schools. Boston compounds its problems by eschewing local schools in favor of an absurd busing system that shuttles kids all over the city, destroys the sense of community and has the net effect of making ALL of the schools as bad as the worst local school would be.

{This is a super long story, and it's more complicated than that...there have been some efforts made recently to roll back the busing, especially at the elementary level, and as a result the elementary schools in middle and upper-middle class places like Roslindale and West Roxbury have improved, but the damage done by busing was catastrophic and likely permanent.}

But we're not moving, and never actually even considered it. And yes, I know that we're crazy and will end up spending somewhere well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to send the kids to school, but I just can't bring myself to move to the burbs. I'd be miserable! The Boy is much the same way, too. He grew up in one of those leafy suburbs, so he is more equipped to handle it than I am, but he's still not the least bit interested in moving. Of note, his Twin Sister is much the same, but his two older siblings live in suburban New York.

You know what else? I want to have hip city kids:-) I want kids that grow up around the sights and sounds and smells of an urban environment. I don't want to put on my social justice warrior hat, but I'd rather my kids be around people who look and talk and think differently than they do. [I'd also like to fully note the obvious inconsistencies in my theory...just go with it]. I don't want them to go to school and play sports and take dance classes and do all of their other extracurricular activities with the same 250 kids from ages 5-18.

I may also be spoiled by my first foray in urban parenting, which has resulted in one of the coolest people on the planet, and one who would absolutely not be who she is if she had grown up anywhere else. She's bold and confident and adventurous and she makes friends fast and she's incredibly nice without being a pushover and she is all sorts of awesome in a way that I think is heavily influenced by where she grew up.

That then, is how we came to where we are. It's a drag to pay a whole bunch of money for something that we are already paying for via property tax, but it's something we're willing to do in exchange for all of the benefits that come with living where we do.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Oh, hey...

I haven't blogged in...well, about a year. And even that was a "I'm still alive" post, so I haven't actually really blogged in much longer than that. Frankly, I can't tell you why I am blogging now or whether or not I will write anything  tomorrow or ever again, but for some reason I just feel like blogging. OK, true story, I was suddenly driven to want to comment on two different blogs, and realized that it would be really awkward to do so after having been silent for a full year!

That probably implies that I really, really have something to say...which, alas, would be false.  I suppose that's good, since most people would come back like this only if they had some traumatic life experience. In that sense, I guess I am happy that nothing bad has happened:-)

Let's see, then...the girls will be five next month. FIVE! They start Kindergarten in the fall, although their school remains TBD, since we haven't figured that out yet. There is a chance they will go to public school if they get assigned to one that we like (don't even ask about the City's school assignment process...fucking ridiculous), but most likely they will be in private school. I'd rather not spend that kind of money on elementary school, but that's the price of urban living, I guess.

Speaking of that, we haven't moved and probably won't any time soon. The good news is that it's been a good couple of years for the real estate market and our condo is worth an awful lot. The bad news is that anything we would like to buy is also worth an awful lot. An awful lot more...so, we'll probably stay put for another year or two and then just suck it up and write a really, really, really big check to get something bigger. Lord help us...

The Boy is awesome. As always:-)

Munchkin will be, gulp, twenty in two weeks! Don't even ask how we got to that point, I am already feeling old enough as it is. She is currently in the Turks and Caicos for spring break. I am currently in a raging fit of jealously. There is no boyfriend, although there are always boys...and there is still always Frenchie. They're not "together", but to hell if I could explain it. They're definitely not "not together", either...

Smoking Hot Roommate is the proud Mama of an adorable baby boy, born just before Thanksgiving. And, like everything else, she is totally rocking motherhood and making noise about having another one in a little bit:-). Big Sis still has the two and no more in the works. They and both of their spouses are happy and healthy.

I'll spare you any massive political diatribes this soon after my lengthy hiatus (other than, can we all please just calm down? Not everything anyone says is The. Worst. Thing. Ever. Washington has become a contest to accuse people of treason as often as possible...) I will also spare you complaints about the snow, which you certainly would have heard if I had been blogging regularly because, holy hell, did it snow a lot!!!

And...um...the Patriots won the Super Bowl, so that was a thing. I've become obsessed with Alaska-based reality television, so that's a thing, too. And, um, I'm not any taller. :-D