Monday, October 29, 2007


Today I will helpfully translate the names of the classes our children in junior high are enrolled in.

Let's start at the very beginning a very good place to be:

Middle School means Junior High. At orientation night they will tell you that middle school is a more nurturing and transitional educational experience than junior high. Instead of moving every hour on the hour to a new class as they do in high school, the kids move from "block" to "block" every hour or hour and a half or two hours depending on the complex scheduling grid that only a Homeland Security spy or a junior high kid can even keep track of. Whatever. If it's a school full of 11 to 14 year olds with poor personal hygiene habits and an obsession with the word "popular" it's still Junior High to me.

English class is now called Language Arts: I have no idea when or why this changed but I strongly suspect it is due to the propensity of all vocations to invent jargon to make them sound more knowledgeable/inscrutable. Because it is "arty" it means a heavy emphasis on the creative-writing and not so much on the grammar and punctuation but that switch occurred way back when. Diagramming sentences and using good grammar is so 1950's.

The Library is now the Learning Center: Now this one I can embrace a little--I mean the need to rename a library. As books are replaced with computers it does seem a little silly to keep calling it a library. Still, "learning center" is a little vague --isn't the whole school a learning center?

Foreign Language is now Global Language: Who knows why? Maybe foreign sounded derogatory? But isn't any language that isn't your own foreign? Whose feelings were being hurt here?

Art is Visual Art: So as not to be confused with the other arts such as music and dance, I suppose. But isn't this derogatory to the sightless? I think it should be "visual if able art".

Good news--Math, Science, and Social Studies are still Math, Science, and Social Studies. For now.

And now, for my personal favorite. The other day my son said he'd have time to finish his homework in PCT. Please elaborate, I said. Productive Choice Time, he said, snickering. Do you mean homeroom? I asked incredulously. Yes indeed.

Now I don't know about you but I'd have to say that in Junior High, a time in which I made more unproductive choices than any other time in my life (with the possible exception of the last term of my senior year in college), I made the MOST unproductive choices of all in homeroom. Passing notes in the form of quizzes (How bored are you? Check one: bored enough to 1. Yawn noisily 2. gouge my eyes out 3. actually do my homework), discussing who likes who and who said that to whom and endlessly ranking my crushes though the list was almost always topped by bad-boy Joe Doga and boy-next-door Kenny Gratton. Sigh. Now that was productive choice time.

So, if you have kids heading into Junior High, consider yourself a little more prepared now that you've read my handy guide but remember that Junior High, like politics and sausage, is best if you don't look at how it is made.

Friday, October 12, 2007


That's a lot of crazy runners.

Last Sunday was the annual Chicago Marathon. My hubby, Jeff, ran it for the fourth consecutive year. But this Chicago Marathon, the 30th, was unlike any other Chicago Marathon. This one was run in record high heat. With temps soaring to near 90 (freakishly hot for a Midwestern October day) runners were keeling over, emergency teams were taxed, and the organizers ran out of water. They were forced to cancel the race before even half the runners were done.

Jeff, walking and running, managed to finish the race but it took him much longer than usual. While he ran the course he saw people vomit, lose control of their bowels, and fall down to be carted away by ambulance. More than 350 people were taken to area hospitals and one man died. But still, most of the runners hung in there. In fact, even when the police announced on the bullhorn that the race was over and they should stop running, they kept running. Only when the police lied to them and said the clock had been stopped did they stop running and walk the last four miles.

By now, unless you are a marathoner or married to a marathoner you are no doubt shaking your head in disbelief, wondering (not for the first time) why on earth someone would even want to run 26.2 miles (yes all marathons are 26.2 miles and by the way if you want to make a marathoner crazy, be sure to ask him, "So, how long is this marathon?") let alone run it in dangerous heat.

Well, I would have wondered that too a few years ago but by now, after living with a crazy runner for the past four years and watching how it all goes down, I get it. I mean I really get why 35,000 of the 45,000 people who signed up for the race last week showed up to run despite heat warnings. And I get why 25,000 of those who started that race managed to finish it.

So as a fairly sane, non-running, yoga-practicing person, I feel I am uniquely positioned to translate for you why Jeff ran in that blistering heat last week.

First off, you need to understand that just to CONSIDER marathon training requires a certain obsessive personality. Type B's need not apply. If you have never stayed up late cramming for an exam, pushed yourself to lift a weight you had no business lifting, or stubbornly hung on as every one else fades away in boredom so you can claim victory over a monopoly game, then you are not someone who would even think about running a marathon. This trait--obsessiveness--is the main ingredient. It is more important than all the others that seem needed such as an abundance of freetime or an incredibly healthy physique. In fact, you don't need either of those. You just need drive, will, chutzpah, obsession...whatever you want to call it.

So you start with an obsessive person who by nature is already busier than you and I are. Now you take that person who has to cram hours (yes hours) of running time into his already busy day. He will do it. He will give up sleep, bartime (though not much--most runners are big drinkers too--did I mention they have obsessive tendencies?), family time, and TV/leisure time to log the running it requires to train for a marathon. If he does this properly, he will do this for nearly six months. He will run almost every day. Not once or twice or even three times a week but almost EVERY DAY for six months.

Day after day, week after week, while you and I slumber under the warm covers he gets up, laces on his shoes and goes out into the chilly darkness of a pre-dawn morning. Night after night, as we sip a glass of wine on the couch and noodle over a crossword puzzle, he is at the gym on the elliptic machine putting in his cross-training time.

Now you take these two factors together--an already obsessive person who has given up DAYS of his time prepare for this one day event and you can see how it is that he would be a tiny bit reluctant to miss the big day. This person is unlikely to let a little heat warning get in his way.

So, that, my friends and family and strangers, is why Jeff ran the marathon despite the dangerous heat, the bodies falling, the amublances wailing. Because he is the kind of person who runs marathons.

I do not pretend to be this kind of person, but I am married to this person. And I have to say, having a marthoner in the house is both enlightening and inspirational. I have come to realize that like all great achievements: the novel written, the summit scaled, the foreign language mastered--the marathon is run by taking first one step, and then another, and then another, until one thinks he cannot take another and then take one more.

It is that simple, it is that impossible.

And I'm glad there are people that crazy. How wonderful for us mere mortals to see 25,000 people limp, hop, crawl and jump over a finish line that they have run thousands of miles to get to.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Tom Foust of my town Glenview--a genuine hero.

"Billy, don't be a hero, don't be a fool with your life
Billy, don't be a hero, come back and make me your wife
And as he started to go,
She said Billy keep your head low
Billy, don't be hero, come back to me.

The soldier blues were trapped on a hillside
The battle raging all around
The sergeant cried, 'We've got to hang on boys!
We've got to hold this piece of ground
I need a volunteer to ride up,
And bring us back some extra men',
And Billy's hand was up in a moment
Forgettin' all the words she said"

From "Billy Don't Be A Hero" by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander

If you remember that song from the (ahem) 70's you'll recall that Billy unfortunately became a casualty of war as well as a hero. I remembered Billy this week as I considered our own hometown heroes.

Perhaps you heard about our local heroes on TV a last week. Three teens, upon seeing an 83-year-old woman turn onto the railroad tracks (she thought it was the road) jumped out of their car to rescue her. She refused to get out of her '06 Lexus (she didn't want her car to get wrecked) so one of them, Tom Foust, had to open her door, unbuckle her, pull her out of the car, and finally throw his body over her as first one train, then a second coming from the other direction, plowed into her car.

This act of heroism has generated a firestorm of well-deserved national media coverage,regional award presentations, and kitchen-counter mom-to-mom coffee/cocktail talk around our town. While everyone marvels and admires the kids' courage, a few have suggested that they would kill their own kid (if he/she survived) for doing something so risky.

Hmmmm. This deserves a little thought. I am reminded of my (emotionally unstable) acquaintance who declared after 9/11 that SHE would not have been a victim of that tragedy because SHE would have run for the hills at the first sign of trouble and that she was teaching her children to do the same. Her take on it was--the hell with heroics, it's all about survival.

Well, I don't agree with either assessment. Yes, it would have been a terrible, terrible tragedy to trade three young lives to save a senile old bat who wouldn't abandon her Lexus (she has yet to thank the kids). Just as it was a tragedy that one of the victims of the Twin Towers was a man who refused to leave the side of his handicapped friend in a wheelchair and died doing so.

But ultimately, these are things I would want my children to do. To respond to someone in need, to do the right thing, to be a hero even if it means risking their own lives.

Because in the end, we don't get to choose how we die but every day, in ways big and small, we get to choose how we live.