Hope your Father’s Day is just ducky

GranDad on his Father's Day duck

GranDad on his Father’s Day duck

Making ducks for Father’s Day

When my son was a (very verbal) toddler, he noticed that flatulence sounded like a duck quacking. One day, his grandfather was umm, feeling gassy, and did what comes naturally. Nic said loudly and with amusement, “GranDad, you made a duck!” My dad the linguist was enchanted by the phrase, and a lifelong silly inside family joke was born.

A Mardi Gras duck mask purchased by my mischievous father. celebrated on this Father's Day

Sometimes, the joke was a mask at Mardi Gras.

A duck jigsaw puzzle I made, which would make a great Father's Day gift.

Sometimes, it showed up in other ways, such as this duck-themed jigsaw puzzle I made. But it’s been a running joke for well over a decade.

Last month, we visited our little place on Fowl River that’s close to where my parents live in Alabama and everything broke – the air conditioner, the boat, the refrigerator, the car, the air mattress. Dad did everything he could to help us fix it all, as he always does.

We knew he’d check the place after we left, especially after all the disasters. So, we bought a seven foot inflatable duck we saw at Walmart. The morning we departed, we inflated the creature, wrote Dad a Father’s Day card, and left it waiting for him in the living room.

Ever practical, he says he is going to use it for naps.

Dad’s lasting influence

I love you, Dad. Everyone says they have the best dad there is. All I know is that my horizons are limitless because I grew up with a dad who

  • * Assured me I could do anything I set my mind to and
  • * Encouraged my brother and me equally at a time when that equal opportunity thinking was not necessarily the norm.

My father, my role model

Aside from his sense of mischief, scatological or otherwise, my father is a great role model because he

  • * Loves to learn all things, whether poetry, science, math, history or what have you;
  • * Shows me that a road trip is as much about the journey as the destination
  • * Demonstrated by his lifelong love affair with my mother that marrying someone who challenges me, lights me up, and I love with all my heart is the only reason to get married.
  • * Defines success as a balanced, happy life that includes family time; interesting career and life experiences and accomplishments; financial security; a wide circle of friends and acquaintances; being of quiet help to others; and ever-evolving new interests.

Dad, you also suggested – more than once – I be selective and avoid drama. Maybe not overshare. I’m still working on those .

I sure love you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day to you and all the dads out there who occupy the same special place in their children’s heart that you do.Those of us with great fathers never lose our (not inconsiderable) smidgen of hero worship. It’s a unique and irreplaceable intersection of love, fun and joy, tinged with more than a little childish awe.

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In honor of National Tater(s) Day

In honor of National Tater(s) Day

In honor of National Taters Day, here’s something I wrote about  our our beloved Jack Russell terrier, Tater when he passed away a few years ago.  Anyone who’s ever loved a dog may recognize the bittersweet mixture of sorrow and gratitude I felt when he died after sharing eighteen splendid years with us.

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Aaron, the time-traveling purple alien – a sad blast from the past

Here's to Darryl, the time traveling purple alien

Here’s to Aaron, the time traveling, sea-faring purple alien, and all childhoods haunted by abuse and loss.

“I got a story ain’t got no moral…let the bad guys win every once in awhile…”

Billy Preston, “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles”


(Aaron’s name and a few other details have been changed out of respect for the privacy of all involved.)

In the late 1980s, I worked with children who lived in a group home. They ranged in age from eight to twelve, and most came from abusive backgrounds. Aaron was one of those children: eight or nine years old, a sweet, tow-headed, funny, fiercely loyal little boy, with loving mischief and a unique abundance of childhood magic soothing and lighting his wounded soul.

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I see good people

I see good people

Cole Sear: I see dead people.
Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?
[Cole shakes his head no]
Malcolm Crowe: While you’re awake?
[Cole nods]
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They’re everywhere. The Sixth Sense (1999)

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Mother love

Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Today, one of our cashmere goats gave birth to a tiny, new and utterly perfect kid. I helped, after we determined it looked like it was breech. I took those little hooves in my clumsy hands and pulled carefully, gently and consistently as the mama strained and bleated until the little one emerged.

The birth of our kid

The birth of our kid

Once out, she was not feet first. Rather, she entered the world in a perfect pike position, nose almost touching her ankles. We should name her Greg Louganis.

My beloved husband asked me later if goat midwifing was on my bucket list and my answer was no. That’s an incomplete response. It wasn’t on my bucket list because I had no idea how amazing it would be to help another mama guide her new little one into the world. Seeing the miracle of  a living, breathing, alert little soul emerge was an unasked-for, now treasured, privilege. It evoked a reverence that came from some timeless place within me.

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In support of school choice

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Today, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the proposed school voucher program here in Douglas County. This is a shame, particularly because the ruling focuses on upholding something called the Blaine Amendment, a piece of religious bigotry found in state constitutions dating back to the Grant administration in the 1870s. Its original intent was to keep poverty-stricken Catholics out of the public school system and simultaneously deprive them of any public assistance to set up their own parochial schools. We now link it to the Establishment clause, the separation of church and state, in the Constitution. But Blaine Amendments are quite different: they’re more restrictive and more discriminatory.

Fast forward one hundred years. When I was in fifth grade at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in the early 1970s, my neighborhood school was the most wonderful learning environment in the world to me. We children came from various religious, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but I don’t remember those even being mentioned. Austin was a meritocracy, lacking much if any social stratification. Our talents were encouraged, challenged and supported.

In sixth grade, our little class moved to a larger middle school that was being desegregated. These new students, white and black, were behind us academically, but far ahead of us in worldliness. At that school, I remember:

  • A teacher coming to school drunk and going to sleep during class.
  • A student with a hypodermic needle chased a terrified friend of mine around the gym.
  • My father correcting teachers’ grammatical errors when I brought assignments home for parental signatures.
  • Classmates telling graphic stories about sexual experiences when most of us Austin kids, pre-teens all, had yet to even hold hands with someone.

The next year, my parents sent my older brother and me to St. Paul’s Episcopal School. Thanks to St Paul’s excellent academics, my brother and I were both National Merit Scholars. We both went on to obtain advanced degrees. We’ve had good careers (well, he’s had a great one.) We’ve seen the world as one of opportunity.

I wonder just how many of those children at that middle school perceived similar opportunity. They did not have the chance to move to a private school like we did. (For one thing, at that time, few private schools in Alabama had many black students. Now, thankfully, most are more diverse.) Mostly, though, private schools were, and are, expensive. School choice may lessen the limits poverty imposes on opportunity, irrespective of race.

I’ve followed this issue in my native Alabama and now in Colorado, for years. The Blaine Amendment continues to perpetuate the segregation of expectation and opportunity, just like we saw in 70s Alabama. Logistical challenges will arise however we try to improve our education system.  However, vouchers provide children with expanded educational opportunities. They let parents choose the best environment for their families. They are a good idea.

Here are some common misconceptions.

Vouchers promote religion.Most, if not all, voucher programs have restrictions in place to ensure voucher students are not required to participate in religious instruction and activity. Vouchers are not about evangelizing religious beliefs. Vouchers are about making educational opportunity available to all. Some private schools have simply figured out how to better prepare their students for college than the current public school system. Students deserve the opportunity to attend these excellent schools.

Vouchers are meant to give rich parents discounts at private schools. They are meant to do the opposite – to give students whose parents have aspirations but not the financial means to achieve them the chance to broaden their children’s options. We can break the poverty cycle through better education. These schools provide better education. We can give more students access to better schools.

Vouchers are meant to get rid of the entire public school system, starve neighborhood schools, and change the system to a for profit model. The vast majority of parents – me included – support  neighborhood schools. My son has attended public schools throughout his academic career. I loved my own neighborhood school. However, if a neighborhood does not have a good school, do we just count those children’s lost academic opportunity, their trajectory, as a sacrifice that has to be made to sustain the overall current public school model? Or do we look at ways, including vouchers, to make sure each child gets a great education?

Bad schools are only a problem in <fill in the state, but usually Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi… anywhere but the state where a voucher program is under consideration.>There are bad public schools everywhere, in every state. This argument can only be made by someone who lives somewhere sheltered from the challenges in other less secure, less affluent, neighborhoods.

Times have changed. Your experience in 1970s Alabama is no longer relevant. A few years ago at a middle school football game with my son, I fell into conversation with the wife of the coach of the opposing team, which was from Denver. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that some of the boys’ parents were addicted to crack, so she made sure to pick those kids up and give them a ride to a safe place each night after practice. She said that they had a team sleepover each year, and it was quite a sight when the boys lined up “out the front door” to use the one bathroom in the coach’s home.

Her quiet courage and commitment were awe-inspiring. All played a rousing game of football that day, and everyone had a great time. But I was left with the knowledge that the challenges her boys faced here in supposedly wealthy Colorado were akin to those in 70s Alabama. Their life experiences were just as alien to my son’s safe suburban life, much further away than the 20 miles we drove to the game. Vouchers could help some of those boys, aided by a committed adult like that coach’s wife, escape bad family backgrounds, aspire to more, and someday help someone else.

If any of those kids have the chance to get an excellent education, however that can be achieved, I’m in. Children who are given the chance to excel early, in the learning environment best for them, have the best chance at a fulfilling life. Parents should have the choice about where their children should attend school. Providing school vouchers for these children, giving them an opportunity they deserve and might otherwise not even know exists, seems an excellent investment of public money.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge to the Blaine Amendment –  perhaps at the Supreme Court level. It may take a few years, but so did many other great efforts when people sought to ensure equal opportunity for all. This is a worthwhile cause.

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