Sunday, February 24, 2013

practice makes perfect

There are two things my kids don't have a choice about learning: swimming and music. They have to learn to swim for their own safety - they should be comfortable in the water - and also because it's good, smart exercise. Music should seem obvious; since music is my profession, I want them to have good, basic knowledge of it growing up. It's kind of like when people move to a different country and they want to make sure to raise their kids with the language and culture they themselves grew up with so the kids don't see the parents as total foreigners. It's not exactly like that, but sort of. Even if neither of my kids grows up to be a musician, and I really don't have expectations one way or the other, I want them to have some knowledge of and respect for what I do.

Daniel started piano lessons last June, the day after school was out. I found him a really good teacher who lives nearby, and so far things are going well. He loves lessons and is happy to practice every morning before school. (He's often too tired or too busy playing with friends or in his fort to practice willingly after school.) Two weeks ago, he played three short pieces in a studio recital in front of other students and their families, and it all went very smoothly. He wasn't even nervous.

This last week, though, we hit a bit of a bump in the road. One of his assigned pieces was harder than he expected, and he - and I! - had to figure out the best way to handle his frustration. Now, my child is no prodigy, but he's smart enough and enthusiastic enough about piano that until this week, he hadn't encountered any piece or exercise that he couldn't figure out in one or two practice sessions. But there was just something about this particular piece that had him stumped.

Ordinarily, I don't sit down to practice with Daniel unless he wants me to play the teacher's duet part. In fact, the more I stay out of his hair while he's practicing, the better. Of course, I heap plenty of praise on him when he's playing well. But I don't correct his mistakes unless he asks my opinion, and even then, if I point out any errors, he gets mad at me.  But I am a stubbornly independent learner, and so is he, so the two of us sitting at the piano bench together is a volatile combination. He does not welcome my input.

Then this  week we had the piece that was a Major (yuk yuk) Source of Frustration. He kept messing up the rhythm in one particular measure, and for some reason couldn't hear the mistake. He asked for my help, then refused to listen and yelled at me when I tried to help him. He stomped his little feet when he couldn't get it right. He threatened to quit playing the song (he didn't go so far as threatening to quit piano all together...yet). I told him that I have music that frustrates me too, when I can't play it right even after going over it hundreds of times. I showed him every practice technique I could think of, and once he stopped throwing fits and started listening to me, and more importantly, to his own playing, he finally started getting it right.

It's not quite there yet. If he's not concentrating really hard, the original rhythmic mistakes creep back in. Today, though, there was definite progress, and I think he can tell.

Every piano student goes through this, usually multiple times. You're sailing along on the easy beginner music, then some new concept or technique throws you for a loop and suddenly wham!, you have to really concentrate and practice over and over (and over!) to get it right, and until you do, music isn't so much fun. In my experience, when this happens kids like Daniel for whom reading and math and everything in school isn't particularly challenging (yet), the idea that they will have to work really hard to learn something is a difficult pill to swallow.

So yeah. I guess learning music teaches some valuable life lessons, too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

stop special needs vouchers!

Below is a press release I received in an email this morning. I plan to take Daniel to the Capitol for this afternoon's press conference to support my kids' friends and classmates with special needs and my friends who are parents of special needs children.



When:      February18, 2:30 PM
Where:     State Capitol, Room 330 SW; Madison, WI
Who:        Parents of Children with Disabilities and Students from throughout Wisconsin (Other Quality Education Advocates are
also welcome to attend)

Madison, WI -Parents from across Wisconsin traveled to Madison today with their children with disabilities to tell Governor Walker a proposal in his budget is very wrong for their kids and to ask him to remove it immediately.  The Governor announced yesterday that he will fund a special needs voucher program aimed at students with disabilities. Parents say the Governor was pressured by out-of-state organizations to include this harmful program without hearing from Wisconsin families about negative consequences. They are asking the Governor to remove the provision and to instead allow for balanced public debate on the issue within a legislative education committee.

Joanne Juhnke of Madison, mother to 8-year-old Miriam who has complex disabilities, says she worked with other parents to start the statewide grassroots group Stop Special Needs Vouchers due to significant concerns with previous voucher proposals that failed to pass the legislature last session. “The vouchers may sound very appealing on the surface, but the promises are false and the vouchers would be risky for the students who took them, says Juhnke. “Also, I am worried about what happens to those students with disabilities who remain in their public schools after funding is drained to support a voucher system that can really only serve certain children.”

Katie Austin Schierl from Neenah, mother to Jim (age 21) says her son, who has multiple disabilities, received transition services and other special education guarantees in his public school. “Parents lose essential rights to a quality education when they take a voucher," says Katie. “We should not be spending precious public tax dollars on an education that does not guarantee qualified staff, necessary therapies and a true IEP (Individualized Education Program) which must be implemented as written with parents at the table.”

Parents and people with disabilities from as far away as Dunn, Outagamie, Kenosha, Eau Claire and Milwaukee Counties were either at the event or represented by their letters and stories. Parents have a range of concerns about a voucher proposal, including reports of rampant fraud in other state special needs voucher/scholarship programs.  Parents say they question why legislators and the governor would want to use tax dollars for a program similar to Florida’s in which parents had been duped by storefront schools and fancy brochures. In some cases, students left schools without earning necessary credits and even suffered abuse. Parents also are concerned about the potential for double-dipping by predatory providers in Wisconsin who might see lucrative opportunities to combine vouchers with Wisconsin’s Medicaid programming for children with disabilities.

“For me, I am concerned about my small local school district which has less than 1000 students,says Tracy Hedman of Glendale. The mom to 9-year-old Cyril says she has recently attended school board meetings where hundreds of thousands of dollars in programming needed to be cut. “Our school is our community. It would be devastating for my district to lose just a few students and that funding.”

After sharing their stories parents delivered a resolution to Governor Walker, asking him to remove special needs voucher policy from his budget.

“It should be clear today, after hearing from parents around the state who have concerns, that this is policy that should not be fast-tracked in the state budget,says Juhnke. “This is the sort of significant education policy change that needs public hearings in a standing education committee in the legislature. Parents and education experts must debate this thoroughly before any decisions are made.”

The parents also noted that no statewide disability organization has endorsed a special needs scholarship proposal. “At the very least, the designers of this proposal should be asking the organizations and parent advocates who do special education trainings throughout the state what they think,says Paula Buege, parent of two children with special needs and parent peer specialist who attends IEP meetings with families throughout Wisconsin to help them design a quality education program. “No one knows better than these organizations and parents who have literally sat through thousands of IEP meetings, what the quality of special education is like in Wisconsin and how it can be improved.”

State and federal special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights, which would not have been guaranteed for voucher students in last year’s proposed special needs voucher legislation. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives families of special education children the right to:
-- have their child assessed to determine special education eligibility and needs
-- participate in an annual "individualized education program" (IEP) meeting and develop a written IEP plan with representatives
of the local school district,
-- specialized transition programming and services aimed at meeting postsecondary outcomes, and
--resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.

Special education law requires that a child with a disability receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). An IEP is a legal document listing, among other things, the special educational services that the child will receive, provided by staff with certain defined credentials and training.

Following the 2:30 press event parents planned to visit the Governor’s office to make a final plea for special needs vouchers to be removed from the state budget.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Five on Friday: brain dump edition

Really, I think every blog post I write lately is a brain dump. My creative powers are falling short lately, and I'm sorry. I'm not really sure what is responsible. Could it be that I have finally run out of interesting things to say??

Anyway, my problems are pretty insignificant compared to most other people's, so I won't make this about me. Instead, here are my thoughts about 5 things I've been thinking about lately:

1. Scott Walker. Yeah, I'm afraid to say he's still Wisconsin's governor, and he's still up to No Good. I have many, many complaints about his politics and his style of governance, but the one that hits closest to home is his education policy. Soon Gov. Walker will announce his budget proposal for education in the state of Wisconsin, and it ain't gonna be good. Specifically, he will propose expansion of the voucher program to include private school vouchers for children with special needs. This is VERY, VERY BAD POLICY.

I have close friends who are parents of children with special needs, so this issue hits pretty close to home. Funding vouchers sucks money away from public schools that are strapped for cash already. Private schools have no obligation to accept students with special needs, they can be selective about which students they accept, and they aren't held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Not a single advocacy group for children with special needs/disabilities supports the voucher proposal. This alone speaks volumes, but the parents of kids with special needs are speaking plenty loud as well.

On Monday afternoon at the state Capitol, there is a press conference scheduled for the families of children with disabilities and special needs, during which several parents from around the state of Wisconsin will articulate their opposition to the voucher proposal. I plan to be there with my kids to support their classmates and my friends who will be directly affected by the vouchers. I just hope our knuckleheads in the state leg pay attention.

2. Melting Arctic Ice. Holy cow, you guys, the ice caps are going to disappear completely in a few years and there are still people out there denying that climate change even exists. I don't know where to begin. I'm extremely distressed about this, though. It keeps me awake at night. Quite literally, I wake up in the middle of the night and panic about the implications of this crisis. Nothing makes me feel more helpless than this. Nothing. I used to worry that the human race would destroy itself in nuclear war, but I think we're halfway to self-inhialation with carbon emissions, and I'm not kidding. The fact that four months ago, Mitt Romney and President Obama were practically tripping over themselves to one-up each other on proving who was more coal-friendly was not encouraging, I might add.

3. The cruise ship disaster. You know what I'm talking about, right? That cruise ship that had a fire on board and all those people looking for a cheap vacation were  stranded in the open sea with raw sewage flowing freely in the hallways and no escape? Sounds like absolute hell. Oh, and then they finally returned to land this morning and their bus broke down and left them all stranded - again - on the highway. Oh, the irony. What kills me is that the cruise company offered them refunds (no brainer) AND vouchers for their next cruise. Dude, who would get on one of those boats again after an experience like that??? Ew.

4.  Anna Karenina. I'm reading it. And it's awesome. Seriously, I love this book. I used to poke fun (gently) at my hubby Stuart for reading massive Russian novels for purely recreational purposes. And now, here I go. I've never read Tolsoy before (aside from a few short stories long ago) and now that I've started Anna Karenina, I'm completely hooked. I'm sure the translators (Peavear/Volokhonsky) have a lot to do with it, but anyway, man is it good.

5. TGIF. I don't have special plans for the weekend, but I'm glad it's here, I guess.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

the importance of relaxing

I'm in this odd position today of not having enough to do. With all that I have on my plate at the moment, you'd think this would never be the case for me. I have, however, caught up on all the tasks I need to do for the various school and preschool-related volunteering I've signed up for, the laundry is done, dinner is going to be leftovers, I need to take a day off from running, and the kitchen floor needs scrubbing but...meh. I have to be really desperate before I spend my free time scrubbing the floor. I've even gone over all the music I have to know for now. I actually just agreed to play a chunk of difficult rep for a horn recital in April, but I won't get that music until tonight, so I don't even have that to practice.

It feels weird to have a few hours of free time. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Things will pick up and get busy soon enough, so I should appreciate this rare afternoon I have and enjoy it. I find that oddly hard to do. I started on finishing up a sweater I started a few weeks ago, but after ten minutes of sitting and knitting without someone to talk to or the TV in the background, I got twitchy and put it down. I have a book to read, but I just have a really hard time reading in the middle of the day. It feels like time wasted, for some reason.

The last year or so I've thought a lot about whether I should pursue steady employment. A few jobs have come up, most music-related, but some not, that I came this close to applying for, but didn't in the end. These jobs have all been full-time year-round positions, and the thing that stopped me from applying more than anything else is that I have absolutely no idea what I would do about childcare. I know plenty of women with children who pursue paid work, but they all have family nearby to pick up the slack, or a spouse who stays at home or has flexible work hours, or they themselves have flexible work hours, or they only have one child, or their job is tied in with the academic calendar so they have flexible hours during all those breaks and vacations from school, or in a very few cases, they have jobs that pay so well they can just afford a nanny and all the summer camps they want to sign up their kids for. None of these things is true for me. The best position that came up required a graduate degree and still paid less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. If I'd gotten that job, most of my salary would have gone to child care.

It's not that I don't love the work I do for my family. And it's not that I don't love the work I do as a freelance musician, either. I just feel often that I'm not living up to my full potential. I was never destined to be famous or give concerts in Carnegie Hall. I just wish there were some way I could feel like I'm entitled to some respect without having to explain myself all the time. Most of the time, I forget that I'm technically Dr. ____, not just Susan.

You see what happens when I try to relax? I just get all existential. It's so tiresome.

Maybe I'll go read my book now after all.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


7 on the 7th

Happy birthday, Daniel! You're a pretty special little guy.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

birthday present

Thanks for all the ideas, everyone! All the suggestions for a fort building kit got me thinking, because right now, the elaborate fort Daniel has built in the basement is his favorite place to be. Unfortunately, he's using all of our folding chairs, which we use them from time to time - like Saturday night when we had dinner guests, so the fort had to come down for the evening. The folding chairs can't be a long term thing. For an evening, I mulled over alternatives and searched the internet for giant tinker toys and then it hit me like a bolt of lightening. I remembered the two years I worked for a touring opera company and our entire set was PVC pipe, painted silk back drops, and as the year progressed, increasing amounts of duct tape to hold everything together. Of course! Everything we need is at the hardware store, and relatively cheap.

So off I went to the hardware store, where I bought a few 10' lengths of 1/2" PVC and had them cut into 30" lengths. I picked out a whole bunch of fittings so they can be attached together in many different ways. I threw in a couple different colors of twine, some bungee cords and a pair of scissors. I even pondered the duct tape aisle for a few minutes before deciding that I didn't want to risk getting it on the walls and floor; having twine wrapped around and through the entire basement as "security wires" is bad enough. To top it off, I went to a thrift store and bought a couple large sheets so Daniel can cut door flaps or window holes as he pleases without having to ruin anything we might want to sleep under.

All this stuff would be awkward to wrap, so I didn't. I made a couple heavy duty drawstring bags for all the loose parts, and because Daniel will miss out on the fun of unwrapping this gift, Stuart and I hid the new fort supplies in his existing fort (once we found the entrance, that is) and wrote some rhyming clues to take him on a mini-search around the house. These clues are pretty bad. I hesitate even to elevate them to the status of poems, but at least they rhyme.

Daniel is also getting 7 gold-colored dollar coins and some new PJs because his current ones are so short they come halfway up to his knees. It's all a bit unconventional, but I think - I hope - he's happy.

Tomorrow, pictures of the birthday boy!