DONNA GWINNELL LAMBO-WEIDNER SAID WHAT?…Wocka Wocka: An Encounter of the Metaphorical Kind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seBvnzKBs0w

Let’s wrap up 2016’s Who said what? with a Muppet post from Donna. Thank you for reminding me about this “colorful community of diverse characters who, together and individually, inspire unity through love, laughter, and song” and for putting a smile on my face.

Fingers crossed for a 2017 that graces us with more Muppets, fewer puppets and a lot less clowns.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner

img_2934The ageing comedian, known the world over for his slapstick parodies, brushed past me in the pre-dawn chill to take his place in the crowd queuing up to board the British Airways flight from Edinburgh to London. I have packing my warm jacket in my checked luggage to thank for our chance encounter. Had I not hung back to keep warm in the stairwell, I’d have totally overlooked him.

As it was, before I could react beyond the chuckle that stretched my lips straight and crinkled the corners of my eyes, the bobbing head, tucked under his signature pork pie hat, disappeared into the forward motion of the crowd.

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My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

Why CrossFit Is The Right Fit (Right Now) For My Tween

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Not every child takes to traditional team sports. Our son, Bubbe is one of them.

Despite growing to have a strong arm, solid shot and height, our now 11 year old prefers to play a tennis match over a baseball or basketball game.

My husband, Mac and I have mixed feelings. While we’re happy to see him connect with a game, the man to man style of tennis doesn’t encourage the socialization, camaraderie and team work to the extent we feel young people need.

Since Bubbe was a little guy, we insisted he dabble in a variety of sports, fantasizing that by the time he got to middle school, he would’ve embraced one which fosters self esteem, teaches assertiveness, tests limits and encourages community.

Well, Bubbe made it to middle school. He’s concluded the sports tweens are supposed to love are “not his thing.” And Mac and I are coming to conclusion during this temperamental time when boyhood and adolescence cross, our parental push has done more damage than good.

As the children in our town age, their sports are shifting from recreational to competitive play. More is expected: time, skill and understanding of the game. Our son has been fortunate to have kind and balanced coaches who’ve helped him to improve over the years. Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time keeping up with the pack.

Bubbe is the child who steered clear of rebounds because he didn’t want to get or hurt others, became overwhelmed by the pace of play and felt slighted when teammates didn’t pass the ball. He’s the boy who struggled to stay baseball ready for lengths of time and who, despite finding a glimmer of glory when the coach gave him the chance to pitch, felt defeated when he wasn’t put on the mound more than a few innings. Game after tournament after season our son was the one who came home repeating, “I’m not good enough.”

What’s a parent to do? Sign him up for between season clinics? Tell him to suck it up, practice and pay attention? Make him play?

Mac and I confess we tried a tough love approach. But our son’s tween ego is fragile; the current cracks are deep and require more than a little filler. In an effort to support him, we turned to the material we know from experience can restore structural integrity from the inside out: CrossFit.

Our CrossFit box is not a new environment. Bubbe’s taken plenty of kids’ classes. CrossFit Teens however, is a different animal. The sessions are structured like adult classes. The coach works these young people hard.

Three weeks in, the CrossFit compound is already starting to stick.

Week 1

Bubbe knows what Olympic weightlifting looks like but never touched a barbell; until his first class when the power clean was the movement of the day. Picking up a weighted bar from the floor, flipping it onto one’s shoulder blades and returning it down in a fluid motion requires focus, coordination and guts.

When I came for pick up, I found Bubbe with crimson cheeks and in the zone, cycling through a series of power cleans, burpees and push-ups. At the buzzer, I heard the teacher say to him, “You’re very coachable. Great job.”

On our way out I asked, “What was the best part?”

With his breath caught, the post WOD endorphin inspired chatter commenced. “The barbell. I liked learning the power clean. How much can you lift? What about Dad? What about the coach with all the tattoos?”

That afternoon, Bubbe wasn’t worried about getting hurt, willingly went out of his comfort zone, followed complex directions and after only 45 minutes, felt empowered, strong and connected to a community.

Week 2  

The air was moist and still; the gym hotter inside then out. Bubbe and I read the white board where the coach had outlined the day’s program: medicine ball clean, burpee box jump, slam ball, farmers’ walk and plank holds. I kissed his forehead and left, excited for him and thrilled it wasn’t me.

This time around, Bubbe was in a full blown brow to toe sweat when I showed up. His clothes were drenched, skin caked in chalk and rubber.

“It was really hard, Mom,” he threw his glasses my way and grabbed a water bottle. “So hard I wanted to cry.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you stop?”

He looked up from his drink. “No, I kept going.”

A boy with a sensitive soul who can harness mental strength is one who holds a big heart.

Week 3

I heard Justin Timberlake blaring on the radio before I could see Bubbe. When I made my way to the workout space, he was on the rowing machine pulling like a mad man.

After class, his coach approached me. “I told him to row 350 meters in 2 minutes. This kid went and rowed 400 meters,” he boasted.

Bubbe beamed.

“When Coach said row 350, did you try to beat it on purpose?” I later asked.

“Yeah, Mom. I always try to get to a number and then do more.”

Sometimes, digging deep, beating personal goals and competing against yourself is just as rewarding as getting the rebound or throwing a strike.

Right now, the team sport route isn’t working for our son. Mac and I are grateful CrossFit Teens is there to help mold Bubbe’s character and fuel his confidence.

In time, we hope he‘ll apply the work at the box to the tennis court, classroom, friendships and maybe even the ball field. But more than anything, we hope Bubbe comes to realize he is without a doubt, more than good enough.

RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…The Lasting Memory of Exclusion

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If you’ve never been the Queen Bee or held court in the hive
If you’ve ever ached alongside a child or grown friend who felt the sting of exclusion
If you’re climbing a social ladder or building one for your children

Then please read this post by Red’s Wrap.

Red's Wrap

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The sting is at once startling and searing.

At first, you think. this isn’t what’s happening. You’re misinterpreting what you see. And then it hits you. You’re being purposely excluded. Those girls  are crossing the street to avoid you. You think you’re imagining something but you know you’re not. It’s real.

It happened to me in high school. When I went to California for a two week visit, I had a best friend, the same best friend I’d had for years. When I came home, she had left me. She said I was ‘different’ but never explained what that meant. I puzzled over this and thought it might be true. The trip was the first time I’d flown anywhere and I went by myself, hunched in the window seat, face up against the glass the entire way. I’d never seen things from that high up. In L.A, my sister handed me the keys to her…

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Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

DENIS IAN SAID WHAT?…Mind Time

Denis Ian is a father, grandfather and education activist. He does not appear have his own blog, but I’ve read his piece on 4 different ones so far. And it’s a keeper.

Here are Denis’s thoughts about hurrying up, slowing down, the value of time and the expectations we have for children and ourselves with each passing year.

I’m already anxious about what to expect from Bubbe, Skootch and myself as we start to gear up for September. So thank you, Dennis for this beautiful math lesson.

Kindness Blog

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.

I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs…

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No Peaking Allowed

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The text read, Come to room 307.

I adjusted my Spanx, grabbed the overnight bag and made my way up from the lobby. Behind the door stood two of my senior year gal pals, Shazzie and Pumpkin.

Although introduced in seventh grade and kindergarten, respectively my adult relationship with these ladies had fizzled to comments, likes and emojis. No matter. There was an easy joy about being together again.

We moved through pleasantries and tossed out filters. First order of business: pre-25th high school reunion cocktails. After a few sips, we got reunion ready while discussing work, shoes, travel, preferred products for color treated hair and of course, raising kids.

 “When my son turned three,” Shazzie said, “I told a friend, this boy can’t get more cuddly, loveable, or sweet. He’s peaked. Now, every year on his birthday she calls me and asks, is it true he peaked at three?”

“Well?” I said.

Shazzie pulled out her phone and played the recent I love you, Mom message her hoarse voiced tween left when a sleep away camp counselor returned his phone during a field trip.  “Not yet,” she replied.

We sipped some more, snapped selfies sporting party outfits and solo cups, and made our way to the main floor. I slapped on my name tag and entered the windowless, dim, pint-sized banquet hall. Waiting was a small gathering of some 125 classmates from my rural town. It was as if my mom had dropped me off at the 8th grade dinner dance equip with a cash bar.

And I wondered, had I peaked? Had any one of us peaked?

Determined to find out, I shimmied past the DJ and hot buffet, quickly refilled my cup and began to flutter about the room.

I ran into my old locker neighbor, intrigued by the cross-country mountain biking adventures he shares with his wife, concurred with my former art class tablemate who opened a restaurant after rediscovering his creativity through cooking, and was happy for the classmates who came out, found love and live life open and proud.

I chatted with my elementary school bus buddy who embraced her small town roots, adores fur babies and helps to raise her nephews, admired the crew huddled around a table who, despite time and distance sustained their decades long friendship, told Pumpkin, a working mother who nurtured her artistic talents and built an impressive career in advertising, a girl I envied as a child how much I respected her, and nestled up next to my high school crush; a sweet gentleman close to retiring from a career in law enforcement who looks forward to tending his Christmas Tree farm.

Many of my classmates married; most are raising children, some are nurturing sick parents. They have been graced with experience lines and silver hairs but the essence of who they were as children lives on.

And not one of them has peaked; not the jocks, pretty chicks, worker bees, artsy rebels, drama queens or goodie two shoes. Each seemed content with who they became; aware there’s more growth to be had.

And I, who was remembered for big hair, oversized sweaters and an even larger opinion felt inspired by my first friends.

When the clock struck midnight, the lone security guard directed us to the hotel’s neighboring bar, ushering me back to the 21st century. I thought about my own tween who was due back from sleep away camp the following week and a concerned letter he wrote about his lovie. Please sew Baby Lamb when I get home. I don’t like when he loses stuffing.

Middle school is on the horizon for my boy and so begins the battle of growing up. I can already feel his struggle; the image, fitting in, friendships, the wrestle with self and his place in the world.

I’ll continue to offer the mother to son advice he has come to hear ad nauseum: follow your passion, stay kind, always be yourself.

But from now on I’ll be sure to add, Hang tight. You’ll make it through. Just remember, no peaking allowed.

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STACEY WILK SAID WHAT?…I Told You So

Courtesy: Flicr Creative Commons

Courtesy: Flicr Creative Commons

Bigger kids. Bigger problems. Can’t wait.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll dye my hair blue; with Stacey’s permission, of course.

Stacey Wilk - Author

finger pointingCourtesy of Flicr Creative Commons

I told you so!” 

Don’t you just want to say nah, nah, na, booby when someone says that to you? Of course you do. I do. So, you must too. It’s that awful moment when you know you’ve made a mistake and some other person thinks they’re smarter or better than you and is about to point out that ugly truth. Go ahead and say nah, nah, na, booby to me. Go ahead. ‘Cause I’m about to say, “I TOLD YOU SO” to you.

Well, not all of you. Just a few (what few? Tons) of you who told me to let Noodge 2 die her hair blue. Do you remember that conversation? If not, or if you missed our discussion, you can check it out here and get up to speed.

About a week or two ago I was in the car with…

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POLICY FOR PLAY SAID WHAT?…Play: Children’s Default Setting

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When I tell people I teach preschool for a living some reply, “What a great job. You get to play with children all day.”

My response? “You betcha.”

Play is not to be trivialized and is largely misunderstood. For young, capable and developing minds, play is serious business.

Adrian Voce author of the book, Policy for Play reminds readers in this extract that play for children is instinctual and imperative and being given the freedom and appropriate space to do so is their right.

Policy for Play

In this adapted extract from Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right, Adrian Voce summarises the importance of play and the barriers to its full enjoyment that modern children face. This extract was first published on the Toy Industries of Europe’s Importance of Play website.

PinkW01While the precise nature of play remains elusive and indefinable, several academic disciplines – from evolutionary biology to developmental and depth psychology and the emergent neurosciences – each agree in their different ways that children’s play is central to who and what we are. It seems clear from these various studies that playing has a vitally important role, both in individual development and in human evolution, but that its primary purpose is simply to be enjoyed.

The great play scholar Brian Sutton-Smith famously said, ‘the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression’; the act of playing brings about ‘renewed belief in the worthwhileness…

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I SAID WHAT?…Standardized Testing; My Case for STILL Opting In

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Brace yourselves.

The 3rd-8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Common Core standardized tests are coming. You know the ones; the high-stake assessments pitched by politicians as guaranteed to close the achievement gap, ensure children are college and career ready, and monitor the health of school districts.

Ten years ago, as a fourth grade teacher, I had the experience of administering and grading the state ELA and Math tests under No Child Left Behind in the same school my children attend today.

Last April, my then third grader took the Common Core version for the first time. Many of his peers and an estimated 20% of children statewide did not. Their parents “Opted Out.”

Those who joined the Opt Out Movement poignantly expressed concern citing that the current, mandated state assessments cripple public education, compromise the professionalism of teachers, steer time away from creative, meaningful curriculum, suck the joy from learning, and kill young spirits with its developmentally and grade level inappropriate language and length.

Despite the fact that I agree with these points, am a supporter of education historian and activist Diane Ravitch’s platform, and believe the assessments in their existing form offer no diagnostic value for teacher or student,

I Opted In.

It wasn’t because I’m worried about the loss of district funding or the perceived reputation of my son’s school, nor was it because I’m a data hungry mama.

Truthfully, if I felt his learning needs weren’t being addressed, I may not have exposed him to a testing environment that requires nine year olds to sit several hours over a 3-day period for two consecutive weeks. Furthermore, if my school district had Opted Out, I would have obliged.

As a public school student, my son is automatically a pawn in the conundrum of educational reform; ammunition in a grown up battle.

But he doesn’t know it. And that’s good.

He is fortunate to attend a child-centered school that takes pride in their programs.  Inside the classroom, teachers do their best to thoughtfully integrate test prep into an already rich curriculum. Since state testing commenced some 15 years ago, the school district has stood behind their mantra; standardized assessments are a snapshot in a child’s day.

Buzz does not exist.

Outside the school, administrators publically voice concern about high-stakes testing.  Board of Education members travel to the state capital to fight for school district rights and have been known to stand firm outside the Chairman of Education Committee’s office until the senator answers their questions.

Advocacy is a priority.

Out of respect for my son’s innocence, love for his teacher, our leaders’ efforts, and in keeping with the belief that anxiety breeds anxiety, I don’t express my testing distaste at home and I don’t initiate conversation with my child about the “big state test.”

He knows it’s happening.

Had I Opted Out, my son would not only know it is happening, but also be acutely aware that he’s stuck in the middle of a movement that effects the quality of his education. And in my opinion, a nine year old does not need this additional burden thrown upon his shoulders.

So like the time he fell off the playground swing and looked to my reaction for his, I bit my lip and played it cool as the test date approached.

As such, when he came home after the first day of the English Language Arts test last spring, this is what he told me…

“Today was the big state test. The teacher put our desks in a line, the old-fashioned way so we could have space. She gave us gum to help us focus. I didn’t like the flavor so I didn’t have any. We took the test for about an hour. Then we got two recesses. During one of them, I played Knock Out and took second place against a 4th grader. We don’t have any homework; I have no idea why, but we don’t. It was a great day. Can I have a snack?”

My response? “Good for you.” I did not ask test specifics, how he worked, whether or not he finished, or how he performed. “Yes, help yourself.”

The morning of the Math test a week later, his primary concern was to make sure he packed orange flavored Life Savers in his backpack. “Mom, sucking on them helps me focus.  Plus I like to trade them with friends.”

“That makes sense,” I said.

The 2016 standardized tests are being administered in less than one month. Now what?

I don’t believe the elimination of standardized testing is realistic and the likelihood that I will Opt Out my child this year is slim. But I do believe a compromise is necessary.

Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News said, “Back in 2009, the old state tests showed 77% of students statewide were proficient in English. The next year, the pass level was raised and the proficiency percentage dropped to 57%. A few years later, Albany introduced Common Core and the level plummeted even more; to 31% statewide. Same children. Same teachers. Different test.”

Step one: Ensure the learning standards are based on principles of childhood development.

Step two: Reconstruct the test.

Developmentally appropriate standards and tests are the foundation for a balanced educational landscape where learning is more joyful than not and standardized assessments play a small but meaningful role in shaping a young person’s school experience.

The Opt Out movement and those who support it are effecting change, but there is much work to be done. So instead of having a casual conversation with a board member or reading education experts’ blog posts, I need to get proactive and stand alongside them.

But I’ll be sure to leave my son home; to play Knock Out, sample Life Savers, and enjoy his final year of elementary school because that’s his job.

Advocating for a sensible public school education is mine.