Saturday, April 25, 2009

Things I don't want to read about at breakfast

Well, one thing, actually. Headlines that nauseate me: "Family claims Chicago police officer beat autistic teenager." The story below the headline doesn't settle my stomach. Moderately autistic 16 year old was standing on the street, approached by police, then he walked away. Police (allegedly) chased him into a restaurant and bash him on the head while he yelled, "I'm a special boy!"

There may be all sorts of extenuating circumstances with which this story will be re-told in such a way that the police action seems--or is--excusable. As the parent of an autistic young man, whatever extenuating circumstances may exist do not make me feel a whit better.

One of the earliest things we taught Jonathan (our 21 year old son who is fairly high functioning) was if approached by police, he needed to immediately identify himself as autistic. People with autism don't like to make eye contact. They get nervous in new situations. Their behavior is often, um, odd. These are not social skill deficits that police willingly ignore, as they mimic what a person under suspicion might do.

Hence the need to educate both people with autism to identify themselves as such and to educate police about what autism might look like. The irony here is that the Chicago Police Department has been doing exactly this week, according to the Trib article. With the Easter Seals, they held an Autism Safety Awareness night , complete with 6 page training memo for all officers and index cards with tips on working with autistic people.

So the young man in question did what he was supposed to do: identified himself as special. The cops have been doing what they are supposed to do: educate the force about a community they serve. And still an autistic person receives a blow to the head needing 7 staples to close.

The family is considering a civil suit and wants the officers involved fired. I understand. I'd imagine that if the officers had pursued this young man, waited that split second necessary to discover what in the heck he meant by saying he was a "special boy", and not whacked him on the head, everyone would be happier right now.

I also understand that there isn't always a split second available. That decisions are sometimes made in a quarter second. And that those decisions can mean life or death for the officers involved. Officers make judgments and make mistakes; they are human.

Officers are enjoined to "Serve and Protect", though. That certainly entails a special obligation to protect those who are most in need of it--those with disabilities. Perhaps a split second of listening to this young man's family--who surrounded both him and the police while the officers were smacking him--yelling that he was a "special boy" with "special needs" might have been enough to change the scenario completely.

I don't want dead officers. I don't want autistic teenagers to have their heads bashed by police. I want to eat my breakfast in peace. Alas, I don't always get what I want.


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Librarian

Dawn Tideman, my favorite librarian, died last month. And I'm really feeling the loss.

As long as I've lived in Oak Park (23 years), I've been a regular patron of the Oak Park Public Library. When we lived on the south side of Oak Park, Jonathan and I took weekly walks to the Maze Branch. He loved the little house inside the children's section. I loved that it was small. I liked seeing the same faces each week. It was great to be able to see Jonathan in the little house and check out the new books area at the same time.

When we moved north to Ridgeland, we were all excited to note that we were a block away from Dole, the other branch library. There is nothing better than having a library in your neighborhood. Proximity makes it so easy to be a voracious reader. Bored? Go get a book. For free.

Over the years, I've gotten to know the librarians there. Dawn and I both enjoyed mysteries. We'd often discuss new authors, new books, beloved favorites. She helped me homeschool my boy. She knew my children by name. And she kept an eye out for Jonathan during his many visits, making me feel comfortable letting him visit alone.

Knowing the librarians by name--and having them know my name--is such a cozy thing. Oak Park may be a big village (50,000+) but it still feels darn small when you see people you know everywhere you go. Yeah, yeah. Cheers and all that. But my branch library is part of what makes Oak Park my home.

So I was very sad to hear that Dawn had passed away after a brief illness. The first time I visited Dole after learning, I was able to have a long conversation with my other favorite librarian, Robin. She told me the long version of the story. We consoled each other. It was reassuring.

It was not reassuring, however, to visit Dole the following week to find that I knew none of the librarians. I'd noticed recently that there were less familiar faces staff the place but had not put together what was going on. A letter to the editor in the Wednesday Journal last week clued me in. Apparently OPPL has a management policy that the entire library staff will rotate through all of the library's locations.

May I just say ick, ick and triple ick? I'm sure there must be some reason behind this policy. But it is such bad community relations that I'm astounded it came to pass. Hello? Don't you all (you library management types and you OPPL board types) know why we Oak Parkers have fought so hard to keep our branches open? We like the branch experience. We like little. We like cozy. We like the Cheers-like atmosphere where everybody knows your name.

Let me put this bluntly: having librarians with whom I have a relationship makes it far more likely that I will vote yes on any library funding bill. I know these people. I know what they do. I know how good they are at what they do. And I want them to keep doing what they do. So I will support them--and the library.

It's hard enough for a neighborhood like that surrounding the Dole Branch to absorb the loss of a long-time and well-loved librarian. Don't make me lose my connection to all of my Dole librarians.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Fair Weather Fan

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Thompson Grapentine and I am a fair weather fan. I use this phrase in both a metaphorical and literal sense.

Today is the Chicago Cubs Opening Day. The Cubs would be one of Chicago's baseball teams, in case you don't find baseball as riveting as my husband does. I used to find baseball riveting, too. When I was 11 or 12, I came up with my own scoring chart. I'd regularly sit on a Saturday afternoon watching the Tigers get creamed by someone, noting each hit and lousy pitch.

Hank Aaron, while not a Tiger, was my hero. The chase for 715 in 1973-74 was incredible. I remember bouncing up and down, thinking I was going to explode every single time he came up to bat. Learned all about racism those two summers, too. How would a little white girl from rural Michigan know that the color of Henry Aaron's skin would be enough to make his pursuit of Babe Ruth worth threatening his life? The enormity of both the racism and the record were hard to fathom. Still are, I guess.

And I was an avid fan during the magic year of 1984, when the Tigers went all the way to win the World Series. Carl and I were married that summer. Our first full day of married life was spent at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers won 35 out of the first 40 games (yes, I had to look up the exact stats, but I was in the ballpark . . . ),
held first place for the entire season, and stomped on the Padres to win it all. Ahhh.

Years later, baseball has grown less riveting. I've often thought this is due to my husband's total devotion to the game. Perhaps I needed to take the opposite course to achieve harmony and yin/yangedness in our home. Or maybe my brain is too full of children to devote sufficient gray matter to the game of summer.
Either way, I no longer live and die by my baseball team's win/loss record and have thus become a metaphorical fair weather fan.

Baseball is my comfortable companion. I listen to the Ron and Pat Show, otherwise known as the Cubs on the radio, most every day. I was, indeed, a VERY regular listener last year, during that almost This is the Year year. But I paid little heed to the standings while on vacation in Michigan, thus again demonstrating my fair weatherness. I only pay attention when it's convenient for me.

Which might explain why today I am also a literal fair weather fan. Carl is off attending his 70 billionth opening day in a row (Tigers + Cubs and no, I don't remember the real stat.) I don't attend opening day because it's usually a. cold and b. rainy. But this year I thought it might be fun to do so. How bad could it be?

The weather god, Tom Skilling, told me it was going to be bad. Unseasonably cool and rainy. "Raw." Did I mention windy? Blech. I'm not made of sugar, don't melt in the rain. But I get hives when I am cold. I hate wet feet. And there's not much worse than sitting down on a wet seat for two plus hours.

Carl retrieved the ticket from my purse this morning and took it with him, hoping to sell it to some more dedicated fan. Some fan who was more deserving of such largesse. Some fan who hasn't yet discovered that the best seat at Wrigley Field is the dry and warm papasan in my kitchen, where I can eat cheap popcorn, pop a pilsner, and listen to Pat and Ron describe the game.

My name is Elizabeth Thompson Grapentine and I am a fair weather fan. Go Cubs!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Talk, Spring Break, Freaking Out and the Dangers of Post Googling

My children are 21 and 16. So, generally speaking, we've had many versions of The Talk. The Talk about sex. The Talk about drinking. The Talk about Personal Safety. And I started writing this entry thinking I would be talking about yet another funny parenting moment. But I've managed to rile myself up enough, upon reflection, to think that I ended up writing about yet another bad parenting moment.

Bad Mom: apparently, I missed giving my daughter The Talk about Traveling in Dangerous Foreign Countries last week before she left for a cruise to Mexico with her high school band and orchestra. Here are some items and some situations that a Good Mom would've covered:

Mexico's drinking age is 18. But it's not enforced with any great regularity in the resort towns. Who knew? She was offered alcohol wherever she went. And the cruise ship was none too stringent in the dispensing department, either. She had the first sip of a number of beverages before realizing that they were not alcohol-free.

Had I known (investigated, been told, checked into the topic, not been an idiot), I would have had The Talk about drinking in foreign countries around young handsome strangers who might attempt to insinuate themselves into her good graces (at the very least) while alcohol held her helpless and witless. Apparently none did so, nor is she terribly interested in drinking right now.

So I got a pass on my bad parenting because I have a good kid who is also lucky. She wasn't so lucky about another item I should have covered. Knowing Annie was headed to Mexico we, of course, talked about not drinking the water. Only drink bottled stuff. (That might have been a logical time to insert something about alcohol, mightn't it? Oh well.) But further health issues did not occur to me. She's smart. She has common sense.

What was I thinking? She's a teenager. And, when the opportunity presented itself for her to get henna tattoos, she jumped. Hey, she's gotten them at birthday parties in Oak Park.

In the US. Where little girls buy kits and decorate each other at birthday parties. And the "tattoos" are temporary and usually produced with chemicals approved by the FDA.

When Annie showed off the one she acquired in Mexico, it was immediately clear to me that this particular henna tattoo was neither temporary nor produced with chemicals approved by the FDA. It bore a striking resemblance to the more industrial strength tattoo a sailor might display on a Popeye bicep.

It turns out that one of my Talks should have been about the dangers of getting body art in foreign countries. In Mexico, for instance, tourists are often offered "black henna" tattoos. But there is no such thing as black henna. Instead, this is a multisyllabic artificial substance added to henna that the FDA specifically bans from direct application to the skin. Nice.

Not only is it permanent but the substance (
p-Phenylenediamine) is known to cause allergic reactions including lifelong sensitivity issues. And were I the type of mother who easily freaks out which, clearly, I am not, this page might cause me to lose several nights of sleep.

Instead, I am looking at the tattoo about 20 times a day, making sure that her hip hasn't turned red with hives or infection or other possible issues. This is probably a plus, as I didn't already have enough to worry about with her other medical issues. Oh, did I mention exposure to this crap can worsen asthma? Can you tell I'm starting to freak a bit?

Wait, there's more. More I should have talked about. I didn't know I needed to tell her that street vendors would literally place joints in her hand: "Would you like a joint? $3 please." Or that crack cocaine was offered to her regularly as a side purchase with any beverage.

I could go on. But aren't I starting to sound like Bill O'Reilly and Fox News, neither of which can stop talking about how dangerous Mexico is? I thought so, too. So in the middle of writing all this, I started googling around, reading stuff about Mexico and travel and drugs and stuff.

You might think that I should have done this before my daughter went to Mexico. Good parents probably did, particularly with Mexico in the news of late. Well, I did read some articles in the Trib. And they assuaged my general fears. Drug lord and pirates were not visiting Annie's ports of call. So I figured she was peachy keen and did not follow through with protective googling.

If I had, I would have discovered all sorts of interesting stuff published by our government. It is no longer run by people who watch Fox News, which makes me feel as though I might be able to rely on the information presented. And said information did not make me feel one bit better about having allowed my daughter to visit Mexico without numerous The Talks.

Here's a reassuring squib, sure to make you want to send your teen down for a charming spring break trip: "Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues at alarming rates. So-called express kidnappings, an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all the large cities in Mexico and appear to target not only the wealthy, but also the middle class.

Or how about this paragraph, clearly designed to enhance Mexico as a spring break destination? "Crime in Cancun, Acapulco, and Other Resort Areas: There have been a significant number of rapes reported in Cancun and other resort areas. Many of these have occurred at night or in the early morning. Attacks have also occurred on deserted beaches and in hotel rooms."

Perhaps The Talk wouldn't have been enough.
Probably we needed The Seminar. In addition, I'm now thinking that a personal bodyguard with experience in nursing who just might have been carrying a handgun (currently outlawed in Oak Park, sort of) was called for.

But no. Instead, I gave her a smaller case talk: be safe, stay in groups and please have fun. And she followed my instructions to a T. She not only survived the trip, but she thrived. So, as usual, Annie has made it through yet another Bad Mom moment with nary a scratch.

Well, except for the toxic tattoo. I wonder if it's also radioactive . . . . Off to google more.


Monday, April 06, 2009


There is snow on the ground. It's covering the almost-sprung daffodils. But it's almost melted and the forsythia is blooming. The wind was biting during the postprandial dog sashay. But the grass is greening up nicely.

Spring is such a tease. I don't care. It is coming. Even if
it's flurrying right or if it snows on Easter, I know it's coming. And that's a good thing, since I'm living with two annoying spring teasers at the moment, both recently home from warm climes. "Oh, snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico was SO much fun!" "The Cubs won at Hohokam Park." "I decided to come home because there was a cloud in the sky yesterday."

Such bad manners, flaunting their fun in my face while I stayed here to walk the dog and mind the manchild. Who raised these people? Oh. Never mind.

I continue to avoid writing about politics. In fact, I continue to avoid the topic altogether. Obama is in office. Each step he takes seem calculated to do the best good for the most people. Which seems to make him somewhat unpopular. Each decision thus far has not made this liberal happy. Which seems to me to be a good thing.

I'm think that compromise on all sides is the most likely answer to the various messes left on our plates at the moment. If clinging to ideology would have ended the war in Iraq or or our economic crisis, the pundits would have been elected King and/or Queen long ago. Life is rarely that easy.

Me? I'd far rather have every solution clearly labeled "right" and "wrong". Mercury in vaccinations has definitely caused autism in every child currently so labeled. Eating hot dogs will kill you in 7.4 years if you eat more than 2 a day. Republicans are bad people and Democrats are good people.

I'm particularly annoyed that my last statement isn't true. Life would be SO much simpler if I didn't know a number of intelligent, caring, responsible and fun individuals who are, in fact, certifiably Republican.

I'm full of "seems" and "if only" about our nation right now. If only I could review each decision Obama makes with a quick checkmark: right or wrong. If only the various approaches to the war and the economy had one among them that called out to me, "I'm unequivocally the best choice--pick me, pick me!" If only those things were true, it would be much easier to write about government and politics right now.

Obama was absolutely the right choice for President. A moose would have been a better choice than McCain/Palin. So that was easy to write about. This economic stuff, about which I understand so little that it all seems a bit like astrology to me---hokum, bunk, think positive--doesn't lend itself to pointed rhetoric or even pondering for me. It all makes me want to keep my mouth shut, my fingers crossed, and my prayers coming.

Because the economic mess doesn't seem much akin to spring to me. Despite its teasing ways, I do *know* that spring is coming. It will come. It always does. How to achieve a secure and financially sound setting for all of us? I don't think there's a whole lot of data on that. Just a lot of tease and surmise.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Less the fool me

Ladies and gentlemen, a miraculous event occurred this morning at 8:40 am. After I drove the man child down to the bus, I returned to my snug home and plopped in front of the computer to enjoy my first email check-in of the morning. I check my email approximately 47 times daily. Yes, I know . . . .

I use Google mail as a reader for all my mail accounts. I could now spend an entire paragraph trying to explain what I mean by that last sentence, for those who have no idea what I'm talking about. But I'm not going to. If you want to understand more about this strange place called the interweb, cyber net, space thingy, ask a teenager. I'm just along for the ride.

So I'm looking at my email. Google has a line up top screaming "New! Gmail autopilot" Naturally, being a sucker for exclamation points, I clicked. It described this really cool new service Gmail is providing that will automatically answer your email with responses that are carefully calibrated to your style and manner of writing.

The page starts out "As more and more everyday communication takes place over email, lots of people have complained about how hard it is to read and respond to every message. This is because they actually read and respond to all their messages." It then goes on to show how Gmail Autopilot would respond to the ubiquitous Nigerian money opportunity.

When I finished that paragraph, I was so, so excited. For the first time in known memory, I got an April Fools Joke before someone told me it was April Fools! Unless you know me, you have no idea how momentous this is. I appear to be slightly gullible. I swallow most everything--hook, line and sinker.

Remember George Plimpton's great Sports Illustrated article on "The Curious Case of Sid Finch"? The first clue that it was a hoax might have been, for those savvy readers, that the issue in which it resided was published on April 1st, 1985. That factoid did not permeate the dentine of my mind, apparently.

Others might have perked their ears up over sentences like
"Sidd Finch pitched wearing one work boot and one bare foot" or perhaps "This guy says to me, 'I have learned the art of the pitch. . .' Some odd phrase like that, delivered in a singsong voice, like a chant, kind of what you hear in a Chinese restaurant if there are some Chinese in there."

But noooo. I read the whole article and was fascinated and so excited for the future of baseball!

I began to enthusiastically discuss Sidd with my baseball-minded husband. He is either more jaded or less easily duped, because he looked at me slack-jawed then burst into raucous laughter, the likes of which I have yet to live down.

So you might well imagine my elation this morning on figuring out, for once, prior to the dupe-age. Worry not, my friends. I'm sure I will continue to provide you with years and years of gullible laughter. But, at least today, the joke's not on me. :-)

At least not THAT one.