Saturday, May 28, 2016

I've Graduated!

It's been an exciting week here. Three of the four kids are done with school for the year. Wednesday my 14-year-old graduated from 8th grade, ending a very good run and I'm so proud of him. He's a hard worker and has always been the serious one who gets really bothered by others not following rules. He's always been responsible and one that never has to be reminded to do homework. He takes initiative and has made his school career very easy on me.

While his older brother has final exams next year before he moves on to his senior year of high school, his younger brothers finished 7th grade and 5th grade. The ending of 5th grade is a big deal as it marks the end of elementary school and the move on to junior high. My youngest didn't seem to show much thought on it either way - neither sentimental about it being over or nervous about moving on. Eh, it's school.

I, on the other hand, am seeing the milestone that he's moving up and the end of his grade school childhood years and its also the end of an era for me. It's the end of a long stretch of having kids at this school - the 12th consecutive school year with a child there. 12 years is a long time. I've spent as many years there as a child spends in his elementary through high school career. In a way it feels like a graduation for me.

And although I have enjoyed it so much, I am glad to finally be hanging up my room mom hat - one that I have worn since 1997 when my oldest son started preschool. Some years I've been room mom for several classes. Some years I've been a room mom at two different schools. It was a lot of work and a lot to keep up with, but a lot of fun.

I was fortunate enough to spend lots of years as a room mom back when you could still bring in snacks and bake homemade cupcakes an when the PTA helped foot the bill for parties or the school let you collect money from each family to pay purchase what you needed to throw the party. In fact, for years, the kids called me cupcake mom because they knew that anytime there was a party, I'd be baking cupcakes. That was really missed the last few years as the schools went to a no food policy.

As a huge foodie, I found it really hard to celebrate things without any food involved. And truth be told, it turned it into a real drag for me to do these parties without being able to have food. And it became much less appealing when you as a mom were expected to shell out the cost of the party all on your own. It just wasn't much fun anymore for me and got to be a burden financially, but I still tried to make it fun for the kids as best as I could. I had some of the most fun with super cooperative and inviting teachers who would let me come in and have a Cinco de Mayo party with authentic Mexican food and some history and language lessons or a Chinese New Year party with rice and cookies and gold chocolate coins or a St. Patty's celebration with Green River Floats and Irish soda bread and corned beef and cabbage made by the teacher's mom or an Oktoberfest with sausages and kraut and German chocolate or a Hawaiian luau with macadamia nuts and pineapple and coconut.

So, although it's bittersweet to see my last child finish elementary school, it's a relief to be retiring from those elementary school parties. There are still opportunities to volunteer in junior high and even a little in high school, but no where near the level of involvement as in grade school. I will miss reading to kids and getting hugs and greetings from them when they see me and chaperoning field trips and going in to teach the kids about local history. But it feels good to be graduating, too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Heroes on Deck: World War II on Lake Michigan airs Memorial Day Weekend

Over my 16 years as a freelance writer, I have written extensively on veterans and on World War II. I've had the opportunity to interview several World War II veterans during that time - some who served in Europe, some in the Pacific and some who served here at home. Every story is so different, but there are similar themes. I'm always blown away at how humble these men are and how they don't consider themselves heroes. Most of those I talked to lost friends during the war - and those who didn't come home are who they call heroes. So often they recall battles or situations with such clarity. The memories are still so vivid in their minds and it's been such an honor to be able to hear so many of them over the years.

Being a mom of five boys who all have an interest in the military and in World War II history, I was excited to bring them along when I got an invite to a preview of the documentary Heroes on Deck: World War II on Lake Michigan. Both their grandfathers are veterans as well as an uncle. And they have two cousins who are currently serving - one in the United States Marine Corps and one in the Indiana National Guard.

They've all been involved over the years in my efforts to recognize and thank veterans for their service. It's included starting a PTA program at their school to send off care packages to those deployed, "adopting" some individuals who were deployed, working with units in Afghanistan to send donations of shoes for orphanages near their bases and sending dog treats for K-9 units, taking them to welcome veterans home from an Honor Flight, arranging welcome home visits at the schools when local soldiers and marines came home on leave or returned from deployments, arranging for World War II veterans to visit local schools as guest speakers, working with a local organization in planting a tree and placing a marker in honor of a fallen marine from our town, starting a Veteran Appreciation Dinner with a local non-profit in our hometown and my son's school project of "Samples for Soldiers" where he collected small toiletry items to send overseas.  As a vice president and program director of our local historical society, I dedicated a full year of programming to World War II and the curator created exhibits covering the war. I've encouraged the boys and enlisted their help in doing what we can to support our troops. One of my boys is a current CAP cadet, a cadet program of the Air Force and some of the other boys have expressed interest in serving in the military when they get older.

They were all very interested in seeing the documentary. How often do you see teenagers excited about a documentary?

I knew just a little bit about military training being done on Lake Michigan, but didn't have any idea of the extent of it. Like the fact that around 15,000 Navy Pilots did their training to become carrier qualified on Lake Michigan before heading overseas. Or how big of a part Navy Pier, now Chicago's huge tourist destination, played in housing and training during the war. Or that there were dozens of planes that crashed during training exercises and remain on the bottom of Lake Michigan. Some have been recovered in recent years and I'd seen clips on the news as they were brought out from their watery residence, but didn't know any details beyond that. This documentary highlights the scope of this unlikely and at first, laughable, endeavor and how it affected the outcome of the war.

For anyone who has an interest in the military or World War II or anyone from Chicago, this is a must-see as we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend and as another year passes that these heroes are lost and their memories and stories fade along with them.

The screening of this documentary was part of the kick-off of fundraising efforts for the Naval Air Station Glenview Museum and the Glenview Hangar One Foundation. For more information on the foundation or to donate, go to

Heroes on Deck airing times:

Airing times are:
Thursday, May 26th at 9pm
Friday, May 27th at 3pm
Saturday, May 28th at 2pm
Sunday, May 29th at midnight
Monday, May 30th at 3:30pm
Tuesday, May 31st at 2am

Here's a link to a trailer on WTTW

And an interview on YouTube with one of the producers

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dear Parents: Behave at Graduation

We're moving into graduation season and parents are understandably excited about the upcoming commencements. I, too, am excited for my son who will be finishing up his time in junior high and getting that 8th grade diploma before a much-anticipated summer break leading up to high school.

But with graduations comes a bit of dread, I must admit. You see, every single year the administration at the local junior highs and high schools asks that the crowd contain themselves as names are called and hold applause and screams of excitement until the end. It's done mainly so that every parent who is there has the pleasure of hearing their child's name called to invite them up for their diploma. Every year they insist that they'll enforce it. They threaten to remove out of control parents who disrupt the ceremony. They go as far as to have uninformed officers at ceremonies to remove disorderly attendees. But it doesn't happen. And everyone knows it won't happen. There are no consequences.

So, as they start calling names alphabetically, the parent of a student with the last name Adams shouts out a quick "Woot!" Then the name Calhoun is called and you hear longer cheers. A student with the last name Evans has a parent who screams and shouts a little louder. By the time you get to Johnson, it's an all-out free-for-all. Parents jump up and down shaking the bleachers, making shrill sounds that would shatter glass. By then the officers just smile and shake their heads. They can't remove them all.  They simply can't keep up. Sometimes the parents stand up, scream and shout and then leave on their own. They've seen what they wanted to see, so off they go.

So, it's just become acceptable to make a spectacle at a graduation ceremony and everyone else just has to accept it and put up with it. But, you know, it just plain sucks. Because by the time they get down to my son, with a last name that starts with an "S," I won't even be able to hear his name over the inconsiderate and ill-timed celebrations of other parents who disregard the rules. You've just spent years teaching your kids to follow rules at school and you can't get through an hour-and-a-half ceremony without breaking them.

I can think of a few ways to possibly reduce or solve the problem.
- Actually stop the ceremony and remove the first disruptive person so that it doesn't continue.
- Hold the diploma of the student whose parents cause a scene and have a waiting period before it will be released.
- Have parents sign off prior to the graduation that they'll pay a fine if in violation of disrupting the graduation.
- Have police enforce disorderly conduct charges.
- Or give in and allow an extra 10 or 15 minutes to the ceremony and give 4 or 5 seconds between reading names and let everyone do their clapping and cheering, so at least it's fair. Otherwise you have a good amount of the people patiently waiting and behaving themselves who have their evening ruined by a few dozen rude ones.

But, in my years of graduations for my own kids and covering them as a photographer and writer, I've yet to see a school that has figured out a way to avoid it or fix it - with the exception of the private school my oldest son graduated from for 8th grade where there were only eight kids in the graduating class.

So, I go into graduation season proud and excited - and also shaking my head at the inevitable and knowing the commencement will go from dignified and emotional to taking a sudden downhill turn to chaotic and insensitive and I'm not looking forward to that part at all.