Thursday, May 23, 2013

moore, and remembering joplin

Two years ago  yesterday, a tornado ripped through the middle of Joplin, MO, killing 161 people and flattening the downtown. My mother has a cousin in Joplin, Carolyn Trout, who sends the extended family regular email updates. This came yesterday, and it's so beautifully written I asked her if I could reprint it on my blog. I have done so below, in its entirety.

It’s been a year since I sent a Joplin update.  Today’s second anniversary has been a study in contrasts – especially since five hours down the road, not far from I-44 (which follows old Rte. 66 most of the way), a town much like Joplin is starting to dig itself out from calamity.  Moore is about Joplin’s size, its hospital and two schools were destroyed, the storm was an EF5.  The debris looks exactly the same.  It hurts to watch.  Many of those who would have been at the ceremonies today are down in Moore helping those Oklahomans whose week started with the realization that life is forever changed.  The first responders from Joplin who went to Moore on Monday evening have made a commitment to return – again and again.  It is a way to help pay back.

There have been almost 180,000 volunteers registered in the city over the last two years.  There have been countless thousands who never signed in anywhere, who just appeared and went to work.  They continue to arrive, by the dozens and scores , week after week after week.
We can tell Moore this:  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Today at the anniversary ceremonies one of the Joplin survivors wrote those words on a 20 foot banner that will be sent to Moore.

Today Janet Napolitano was in Moore and then came to Joplin.  She spoke to the thousands assembled in Cunningham Park, rebuilt and beautiful (the trees will grow), as did Governor Nixon, and the mayor, the city manager, and other dignitaries.  There were lots of statistics – 80 % of the businesses are back, up and running, even if some are still in temporary quarters.  Over 80% of the destroyed/damaged homes are either rebuilt or have building permits.  Most of the 28 churches lost have rebuilt; it seems another one opens almost every Sunday.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church broke ground last week and will probably be the last church to be completed in another year or so.  The schools are on track, and the new hospital rises, immense and impressive, right beside Exit 6 on I-44.  They placed the last piece of steel a couple of weeks ago, and there above the interstate the construction crew flew American flags beside the traditional evergreen tree hoisted to the topmost girder.

Today an official from the Department of Commerce announced to those in the park that Joplin will receive a $20 million grant to help in the redevelopment of 20th Street, which used to be a main commercial thoroughfare through the city but which has been slow to recover.  The grant will go toward the construction of a new library/theater complex as an anchor for development, and the old library – MY old library – will be taken down and replaced (so we’re told) with a medical school in the heart of Joplin’s downtown.

But despite all the accolades and optimism and celebration of recovery, the most emotional moment in the ceremonies this afternoon came at 5:41, the exact moment when the tornado started its grinding march across town.  That moment of silence held the hearts of everyone there in stasis – the bagpipes wailed through “Amazing Grace” and everyone forgot rebuilt houses and laudatory statistics because the real cost of Joplin’s disaster -- those 161 lost lives and the thousands of injuries, many permanent –still pierces the heart and soul of each Joplin citizen like a knife.   There are 161 new trees in Cunningham Park, a memorial that will be as much or more important to generations to come than plaques and statues.

I loved what Governor Nixon said:  “Joplin is many things, and right now I believe you are a beacon of hope — a sign that in times of great need, we are not alone; a sign that wounds do heal, though sometimes they still hurt; that life changes, but it goes on,” the governor said. “And as it does, the power of hope lifts our hearts and compels us forward.”

Thank you, everyone, for your continued messages of concern and support.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

i move pianos

With most of my piano obligations over for the time being and summer nigh upon us, I've been working outside in my yard and community garden plot. At times, the work ahead seems so daunting I don't know where to start. I've added a lot of garden space in the front yard (where the sun is), I've got a big perennial bed that I'm always re-working, and there are still large areas of neglect that I know I won't even get to at all this year.

There's also the community plot. We had a workday there yesterday, so I helped out with the common spaces but didn't get anything done in our personal plot; that needs to happen this week so I can plant those lovely tomato starters I bought at the farmers' market yesterday.

At the workday, I was tasked with digging up some perennial flowers and moving them to a different spot. It wasn't easy. These were large-ish clumps of flowers with big root systems and heavy soil stuck to them. Once I dug them up, I placed them into a rusty old wheelbarrow and headed to the place where they were to be transplanted. One guy saw me muscling the 'barrow over the uneven ground and offered to help, "You want me to push that for you?"

See, I get this all. the. time. Physically, I'm not a large person. That, plus the fact that I'm a woman means that people are always assuming that I am weak, as in "Don't lift that up! What the hell are you doing??!! I better help you with that!" It gets old, because the fact is after running regularly for 15 years, biking regularly for more than a decade, swimming every summer for the last 5 years, and lifting my children since they were born, I may not be a model body builder, but I have a pretty good idea of what I can handle and what I can't. I'm stronger than I look. To be fair, I don't look very strong.Still, I'm sick to death of people treating me like I'm a complete wuss when I'm not.

So yesterday, when H__ - who actually has a plot next to mine and is one of the nicest, friendliest people I've had the pleasure to meet, so I harbor nothing against him personally - offered to push the wheelbarrow for me, I replied, "No thanks. I can handle it. I move pianos."

It was brilliant. Genius. I wish I would have thought of that line ages ago. Because you know what? No one treated me like a wimp the rest of the morning. Several minutes later, I even overheard one lady tell someone, "No, don't worry about her. She moves pianos!"

It's true, too. It just comes with the profession. 6-, 7-, 9-foot grand pianos are usually in need of re-positioning on stage and I can shove one of those suckers into place as well as anyone. (They also come with wheels and strategically placed handles, which I didn't mention at the garden workday, but I didn't feel it was necessary. I can't move a concert grand with the brakes engaged, either. Ask me how I know.)

All that said, alas, I've developed some cramps in my right hand and arm. It's in an area I've not felt pain before, so I'm sure it's due to overuse in the garden, so I'll have to be careful this week, despite all the work needing to be done. Just so you know I'm not actually invincible.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I have a confession to make: I do not like volunteering in the classroom.

I do it anyway. I know that parental involvement is over and over again shown to be a key factor in a child's success. I know that parent volunteers are valued in the public school classroom. As a full-time mom I'm supposed to be really devoted to this particular aspect of parenting. But I just don't like doing it.

When Daniel entered kindergarten last year I started spending one hour per week in his class, and I've continued that through this year in his first grade classroom. He is lucky to have had teachers both years who are both excellent instructors and quite efficient at running the class. In fact, I have at times felt like an extra distraction for the kids who have a hard time settling down, and I wonder if I'm getting in the way, more of a hinderance than a help. There's also the lack of authority you have as a parent volunteer. When the teacher tells a kid to put her shoes on and sit down, that kid is much more likely to do just that than when I tell her to.

Today was especially difficult. Daniel's teacher was out for the afternoon at a meeting, so the sub was arriving just when I was.  When a sub is there, it's basically a free-for-all anyway. The squirrelly kids were extra squirrelly, one kid kept coughing and clearly didn't feel well, and two boys who are normally a little better behaved kept sticking pencils down their shorts instead of doing their work when they thought I couldn't see what they were doing. I couldn't wait to get out of there, to be honest.

Whatever teachers are getting paid, it's not enough. By a long shot.

And by the way, as a quick aside, I saw an article online estimating that the work at-home parents do is worth about $59,000 per year, give or take. Of course, there's no concrete quantifiable way to measure the value and worth of the work I and millions of other moms and dads do for $0, but someone out there estimated what it would cost to hire domestic help for childcare, housework and meal preparation for 40hrs/week, and that 59K was what they came up with. And of course all that work takes far more than 40 hours any given week, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Anyway, I wonder how much more you could figure into that number if you counted all the hours parents spend volunteering for their communities and their kids' schools? Because that takes a LOT of time, and it's really important work (even when I don't like it.)

I'm considering calling it quits on the in-classroom volunteering after this year. (I'll finish out the school year, at least, though even that seems interminable; they've got another month to go!) Not to brag too much on my own kid, but Daniel is exceptionally well-behaved and bright enough he doesn't really need me there to do well. What's holding me back is that I really like getting to know the teacher, getting to know the kids, understanding their relationship with the teacher and with each other, and seeing how the classroom operates, at least for one sliver of the week that I'm there. I just wish I liked being there a little more.

Anya starts kindergarten this coming fall, a thought that makes my heart ache already. I'm sure I'll spend some time in her class, but whether or not I go to Daniel's remains to be seen; the kids are a little more independent by second grade anyway. I certainly plan to be involved in other ways. I'm on a committee that coordinates outdoor education, which is a thriving part of the curriculum at this particular school. Last month, I spent several volunteer hours planting tomato and pepper seeds with all the first grade classes...alas, most of them didn't sprout (my gardening expertise leaves something to be desired), but that was a project I genuinely enjoyed.

With two kids in public school full time next year, I anticipate some big changes ahead. I will have more time during the day for freelance work and all the chores and errands that come with being the "at-home" parent. But as the kids get older, parenting gets more emotionally complicated (though if one more person says to me "If you think it's hard now, just wait until they're teenagers!!" I may blow a gasket. I'm not an idiot, after all) and I'm bracing myself for what's to come.

Monday, May 06, 2013

for the love of dirt

Yesterday morning I made a wonderful discovery. I was so excited I had to burst into the house, interrupting Stuart's weekly phone chat with his folks and startling Daniel out of his Captain Underpants daze (oh, when will he ever be done reading those books? I have banned the word "poo-poo" in my house because he can't stop saying it) to show everyone this:

Yup, that's dirt. But it's not just any dirt, it's DIY dirt right out of our back yard compost pile! We have been composting for years, and it's mostly been, frankly, a smelly disaster. But finally, finally, we are having success. For all the effort and kitchen scraps that went into the compost, all we've gotten so far is two pails' worth, but two pails is better than nothing, and it's definitely better than a pile of slime that smells worse than the dog next door. At any rate, it gives me hope that we may yet get the hang of this.

Anya was pretty happy about it, too;

She is one eager helper in the garden. Both of my kids are, actually, and this year I'm letting them have a little plot of their own. We'll see how that goes.