Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Thanksgiving is All About

I don't want this post be sound self-aggrandizing because that is not my intent.  I had an idea, I sold some people on the idea, and a whole bunch of people executed on the idea.  So, although I had the idea....I don't take credit for the success of this project.

After I went to the Utah PTA Convention this year, I talked to my friend, Stephanie, who is the President about how we should start a student association.  In the middle and high schools, PTA can be a PTSA.  She agreed, and we went to work.  I'm not going to lie...this project has taken more thought and time than I imagined that it would.  But because Stephanie is so passionate about it, it's been very successful.

Each month we've had an after school  meeting for our students, and we have about 40 kids attend each time.

For the month of November, I thought we should do a service project.  We talked about different options.  We thought we could get a bus and take kids to work at the Utah Food Bank.  We looked into group service opportunities through United Way.  Then I suggest that we have a food drive....but not just any food drive.  At Mount Jordan Middle School in Sandy, Utah, we have almost 50% of our students on reduced or free lunch.  This measure is significant because it is related to parents' income.  We have some families in need, and we didn't have to look too far to find who had the greatest need.

So, here was what we did.  We worked with administrators to identify 10 families in our school who were in need.  Our Vice Principal, Matt Watts, was a ROCK STAR!  He placed countless calls and relentlessly tracked people down.  We wanted people to 1) agree to accept the donation; and 2) agree to pick it up at the school at a designated time.  We didn't want the PTA moms to know anything about the families in need.  We'd considered delivering the food in person, but working through the administrators provided privacy and confidentiality for the families.   Matt was calling people all the way up until the day of, and I know that he stayed at the school until 6:00 PM on Tuesday when the last packet was picked up.

On Monday, November 14th, we had an assembly, and we "kicked off" our food drive.  The homeroom classes had a competition (which made it more fun).  In 5 short days of donating, we had enough food to feed 11 families (our final count).  We got private donations for pies, turkeys, potatoes and rolls.

On Tuesday (the last day of school before the break), we got our PTSA kids to stay AFTER school.  We sorted food, decorated boxes, filled the boxes and put a craft project (made by the kids) and nice plastic silverware (with a homemade napkin holder) in the boxes.  We also made sure that each family had a roasting pan, some Stove Top and gravy. 

I was blown away by the support.  The PTA moms showed up in full force to sort food and manage certain groups of kids.  Countless students and teachers donated food.  Based on personal calls from Stephanie, we had 11 turkeys donated.  And the best thing....the kids really love doing this kind of thing.  In fact, when we asked them the kind of things that they wanted to do, they mentioned that they WANTED to do a service project....WANTED.  These are 7th, 8th and 9th graders.  Can I tell you how happy that makes me!

In my political behavior class, we've read literature on political socialization, political participation and involvement.  You know, I firmly believe that kids WANT to help.  They just have to be given an opportunity to do so.  I talked with Dominique a few times about how this food was staying in our Mount Jordan family....for those who really needed it.  She got the significance of that.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a donation to the Utah Food Bank.  However, I think when the kids know that their efforts are benefiting people they know (even though they don't know who), it means more to them.

In all of the things that I've done and been a part of, I'm really proud of this Student Association that we've started in our PTSA.  We are requirement to get in (except annual dues, and we have scholarships for those who can't afford the $4.00).  We respect the kids and their ideas.  When we ask them how they want THEIR organization to be, and we are amazed at the great ideas they have!  We should all give our kids more credit!  Who knows how these experiences might influence a kid at a later time in life.  I firmly believe that we have to model the behavior for them or they won't know how to participate in meaningful ways.  Sure, they get this in their families and churches, but they spend MOST of their waking hours during the week at their school.  It is here where they can make a difference and where, I believe, they want to make a difference.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oh, how I loved the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics

In a few short months, we will be celebrating the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the Olympics in SLC.  What an AMAZING time! I was never so proud to be from Salt Lake City as I was during the Olympics.  We really got that one right!  I lived downtown in SLC at the time...I mean right in the thick of things, and it was awesome.

I remember that I got back from a trip one night, and as I was driving home, I thought, "Why is everyone waiting for the bus this late at night?"  They weren't waiting for the bus....they were waiting for the Olympic torch to pass by.  I high tailed it home, dumped off my luggage and ran out the front door of my apartment complex.  I stood with my neighbors and cheered as a runner ran on MY street.  Amazing! 

I have so many wonderful, wonderful memories of the 2002 Olympics.  My office is a mini-shrine to those games.  I have a big picture of downtown all decked out, some commemorative photos of winter sports taken in historic Utah geological landmarks and an abstract picture that was part of the arts displays.  People who haven't experienced an Olympics first hand might not even be aware of the arts movement that is part of the Olympics.

On Monday, our local middle school kicked off our "Student Success Week."  We do this every year, and it's is such an important program to our PTA.  We try to educate our 12, 13 and 14 year olds about their options for college and careers.  This program is run by one of our most passionate and dedicated PTA moms.  This year, we were able to get Olympic Gold Medalist, Derek Parra, to speak to our middle school students.

Most of them were too young to remember the games, but his story was one that is timeless and relevant to all age groups.  I really can't do his story justice, so if you have a few minutes, click>> here<< to read about his life.  What was relevant to our school's demographic was this....Derek grew up poor.  His parents were divorced.  He is a Mexican-American (his self-description).  Right there, this describes a large part of our student body.  He grew up at the rollerskating rink trying to pinch pennies to buy a snack after he paid for his admission and rental...again....most of the kids at our middle school have frequented our local roller rink.  They love it!  It's kind of a dive, but who cares! 

He talked about growing up with his dad and his brother and not having sports equipment and having to "make due" with what they could come up with.  He talks about eating Mac 'n Cheese. 

When he was 17, he moved to Florida to train with a real skating coach.  He paid room and board and quickly learned the ways of life.  His coach was not going to give him a free ride.  He had to pay rent, pay for his own food...and ride everywhere on his bicycle.  He found out on day 1 that the practice facility was 32 miles away.  He found out shortly thereafter that he had to get a he did at McDonald's.  He had no money during the first two weeks that he waited for his paycheck, so he ate the "aged out" sandwiches out of the garbage.

His story, however, is not one of sadness.  It is one of hope and perseverance.  He told the kids that he has only "won" a couple of times in his life but that his failures taught him so much.

 In 2002, the world watched as he broke the record in the Men's 1500 Speed Skating event.  The world smiled and cried as he jumped up and down on the podium and received his Gold medal.  Derek is a great patriot, and he spoke openly about his experiences with 9/11 and his patriotic feelings about being an Olympian, winning the Gold medal and singing...with great pride...the National Anthem.

 I cried at the assembly.  I'm guessing (although I don't know for sure) that some teachers probably did to.  He is such a NICE guy.  Honestly, we chatted it up before the assembly, and he was totally normal and approachable.  He let the kids HANDLE his Olympic medals:  one Silver and one Gold. He showed the video of his winning race, and the kids all clapped and hooted for him.

Can I tell you how awesome it is to be part of a PTA organization that can bring these experiences to our kids!  How awesome it is to be a resident of Utah where I experienced that proverbial "once in a lifetime" Olympic Games in MY town.  How awesome it is to know that the spirit of the Olympics is alive and well and remembered.  And how awesome it is to know men like Derek Parra make a difference in the world.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can we call her "Mom"?

Yesterday I was at a PTA meeting at the middle school, and our meeting ended about the same time school ended.  Dominique came into the teacher's lounge where we were meeting, and she must have called me by name.  One of the PTA ladies asked, "Your daughter calls you by your first name?"  I paused for a second (mainly because I hadn't heard her refer to me by name) and said, "Oh, yes, she is my step-daughter."  Honestly, I think that the woman thought I was a progressive mom having my kids call me by my first name, but that was not the case. 

All of my kids call me Wendy.  This is my preference.  When Dean and I married, the kids were ages 5, 7, 9 and 11.  Dominique and Elle both asked Dean, "Can we call her 'Mom'?"  Wow.  That question was an interesting one for me.  I had a step-mother (and still do), and I always called her by her first name.  To me, the title of Mom is somehow special and sacred.  I know that may sound silly, but I only had one mom, and Kathy was my step-mom.

So, when the girls asked if they could call me mom, out of deference to their mother, I said that I thought they should call me Wendy.  It works out well for us, and I think it is the right thing to do.  I'm now "Grandma Wendy" to little Layla, and I have my kids call my mom "Grandma Rosemary" (mainly because they have a bunch of grandparents.)  They call my dad "Grandpa Gene" and my step-mom "Grandma Kathy."

One time a few years ago, the kids' great-grandfather pulled me aside and said, "I really think you should have the kids call you "mom"."  He meant well.  His point was that I was "more of a mother to them than their birth mother ever was."  I know that.  They know that.  We don't need to go confusing everything by instituting title changes that would just complicate things.

If someone says, "Give this to your mom" or "will you tell your mom....," they don't correct that person and blurt out "She's my STEP-MOM."  However, when they introduce me to people (their friends, for instance) they will say, "This is my step-mom, Wendy."  I'm cool with all of that.  I go out of my way not to refer to myself (to them) as their "mom."  I refer to myself at their parent.

Why do I do this?  Well, part of it is because I know how much it would have hurt my mother to call another woman "mom."  Part of it is that I really love my own step-mother and didn't need to call her "mom" to have a great relationship with her.  Part of it is that out of deference for their mother, I think it is the right thing to do.  And if you know me, you know how little I think of their birth mother these days.  However, that doesn't diminish the fact that the *is* their biological mother and for a period in their lives *was* a great mom to them.

I've never felt that I needed to be validated with a title.  I know who I am to them.  I am their mom.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Angels All Around Us

I was up late tonight scanning some family pictures, and I came upon a few pictures from a trip that I made with my mom and my nephew to the Lincoln Memorial in Springfield, Illinois.

Wooohooo...look at that hair...and don't I look oh, so attractive in those jeans.  My nephew, Cory, is probably 11 or 12 in this that puts this at 8 or 9 years ago...definitely before I was married.  I was surprised that Cory had never been to the Lincoln's Tomb.  You touch his nose for good luck...which also means that a billion germs are on that schnoz. 
As we went into the actual tomb where Lincoln, Mary Todd and three of their children, I told Cory that you had to speak in a whisper out of respect for the dead.  He understood, and he was very respectful.  This is him with his serious face in front of a statute of Lincoln. 
As you can see from the top photo, there are grand staircases that allow you access to the top of the monument.  We climbed to the top of the stairs and while we were up there, Cory said, "Do you hear that Aunt Wendy?"

Me:  "Hear what?"
Cory: "Zoom, Zoom.  There are angels all around us right now.  Can't you hear them?"
Me: Silence.

You know, I didn't hear or feel the angels, but I firmly believe that he did.  The oddest thing was that he had never, ever said anything like that to me before under any circumstance.  Is there any doubt in my mind that there are angels that guard Lincoln's Tomb.  Not one whit or tittle of doubt.