Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paper Discernment

The other day, I was told that I made one of my children spill. It seemed remarkable, as we were not in the same room together when the spill occurred. Clearly, I have more power than I give myself credit for.

When the phone rang during the school day this past week, and I saw a school number, I hoped my omnipotence would not desert me. One of my children was calling to see if that stack of papers—the papers that no longer fit in the binder—was still somewhere around the house. I must confess, I had been told to throw the papers away, but like a really great empty shoe box, I couldn’t do it. 

One of the tasks of the final grading period is often paper discernment. Should it stay or should it go? Yes, if I had recycled that stack of papers, the consequences would have been very natural. But at some level, as a parent you know that you will get to share the consequences that way, and to be honest, this can be a deterrent, depending on the toll the other demands of the day have taken. The truth is that I was joyful when I was able to pull the broken binder, containing the missing papers needed for the conference portfolio, from its hiding place. It wasn’t really hiding; there just wasn’t a category for papers of that type of undetermined future.
In the role of parent, there are delicate, ever-changing lines. Where do you let your kids determine their own outcome, and where do you dart in, sometimes unseen, and run (hopefully) proactive interference? I think it depends as much on us as it does on them.  When we know better, it is tempting to act on what we know.  On this day, I was able to turn crumpled, cast-off paper into a late birthday gift...for both of us.  

Stacy Abena

Friday, May 27, 2011

Been There, Done That

“Reach your arms up into the air and find the BEST mommy (who is YOUR mommy), and give her a big hug!” 

With those words from Teacher Lisa, the separation part of my son’s weekly "Play Pals for Twos" ECFE class begins.  I grab my bag and walk down the hall with a dozen other moms. Our group is chatty and friendly, asking each other for updates and sharing stories of the week past.

“Is everyone better at your house?” 

“How was your Mother's Day?”

“Can you get together next week for a play date?”

We head into a classroom, unpack our lunches and settle in for a little over an hour of conversation and learning facilitated by Sandy, our terrific Parent Educator. We are sometimes a tough crowd, taking the conversation in directions that I imagine Sandy did not anticipate.  How does discussion of the best area parks and playgrounds turn into a conversation about being “hit on” in a bar?  But Sandy is masterful in bringing out the best in each of us, helping us to share our experiences, our innate wisdom, our different approaches to this thing called Parenting.  And in the sharing, we each learn to trust in ourselves a little more, to understand that there is not one right way to raise our kids

I survey the room, and think again how lucky I am to have met this group of women.  As a newcomer to Edina last summer, I heard about ECFE early on.  After a month on the wait list, I was notified that a spot was open in the “Been There, Done That” class, which meant that the parent also had at least one older child.  And so our weekly meetings began.

And each week, I am thankful that I have had this amazing group of women to carry me through my first year as a Minnesotan.  They have shared tips on sledding hills, kid-friendly restaurants, and the best museums.  They have shared the successes of parenting, from potty training to family harmony, and passed the Kleenex for the stories of parenting despair, from potty training to sibling rivalry to ER visits.

As we head into summer and our last week together draws near, I realize that I will miss the group, but will take the friendships forward.  I also take a better sense of who I am as a parent, and my own ability to raise my children into happy, successful adults.  ECFE is unique to Minnesota, and it is an important and valuable addition to the Edina community.  I’m thankful to have been a part of it this year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Do We Teach Our Kids to Work Hard?

Ricky Arnold was a teacher before becoming an astronaut.
I recently heard NASA astronauts and scientists repeat the same thing again and again: “Work hard in school and you can be whatever you want to be. (Maybe even an astronaut.)”  It made me wonder how I can teach my own kids to work harder in school--especially as they get older.

My dad’s father dropped dead of a heart attack when my dad was only two.  His family lost the farm, and they were forced to move to into town and onto welfare, only to face more tragedy.  He worked hard in school so that he could get a scholarship to college, go to graduate school and move beyond the financially-desperate situation he grew up in.

My mom grew up on a farm too.  Her dad struggled to earn back the family farm they lost during the Great Depression.  Her mom, who somehow managed to get a college education, sewed clothes for her four kids as they scrimped and saved.  My mom studied hard, went to college and became a teacher.

Growing up, I never had any doubt that I’d go to college.  I worked hard, although not all that hard, and now I’m living a life most people in the world would envy. I have an education, a house, and enough to eat. 

My own kids are so far separated from the poverty that loomed close to my own parents and grandparents that I often wonder how they will be motivated to work hard in school, and in life. 

Of course, I don’t want my kids to suffer, but I’m concerned that their lives are almost too easy and that, here in Edina, they are surrounded by too much wealth and success.  I fear that they will take what they have for granted.  I worry they will feel entitled to live in a certain way, but not understand that it is a combination of hard work and luck that can result in personal and financial success.

Our society’s high expectations of wealth and leisure (especially those of our generation and our children’s) are setting us up for failure. We live in a bubble where people put wealth, beauty and celebrity on a pedestal.  We overspend and underachieve. We want it all for nothing.

I hope that I can teach my children that if they want to live in a certain way, and be fortunate enough to do something they love to earn a living, they will have to work very hard.  I hope I can teach them that happiness comes from earned achievements, not superficial ones.  I hope I can teach them to work harder than I did in school.

Of course, they already have a leg up. They have parents who care about education, are surrounded by amazing teachers, and a have supportive community. Many children who have the desire to get out of bad situations aren’t so lucky.

Liz Heinecke

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dads Volunteering: Some New Math

The thought of my father ever volunteering at my grade school is laughable; it may as well have taken place on Mars. Being immersed in all-things-grade-school was mom territory.  For whatever reason, dads were off limits.

Last March, our school completed a successful fundraiser and I—a dad of a first-grader and a fourth-grader—was co-chair of the event with another mom.  We literally spent months working on the event and had a team of 12 working with us—all moms.

The few times I reflected on being a dad in a mom-dominated world usually happened when, despite being co-chair, I noticed that few questions were ever directed to me—they were usually always asked of my mom cohort.  At committee meetings, I often found myself in the role of the second chair—not the co-chair.  Emails debating this or that aspect of the gala found their way to my co-chair first, and then from her to me.  It was noticeable, and I started thinking about it. 

Where were the other dads on the rosters of school volunteers? I wondered. I looked at the PTO executive board for my school here and noticed that all but three of the 11 are moms.  Was my school unusual?  I checked Cornelia’s PTO leadership here—all moms.  Concord’s here—all moms.  Creek Valley, Highlands, South View here, here, and here—31 leaders possible and 27 (87%) of them are moms.

In fact, in our school district, not counting the high school, there are 77 PTO/PTA leadership positions.  90% of those positions are filled by moms.  There are only 8 dads in leadership positions in our elementary and middle schools—and three of those 8 are principals.

The words you are reading right now are written by the only dad writing a blog in this school district.

You have to believe our schools would be better places with more dads helping out. 

Our children need to see their dads in the world that makes up so much of their lives.  We don’t need fewer moms. We need more dads.   More dads volunteering in our schools won’t make the schools better—it will make them different.  And through those differences, stronger.  Check out this article here.

More dads alongside more moms will mean even richer, deeper environments for our children to grow and succeed.  It will mean less of a burden on the moms; each child will be held high by four hands—instead of just two.

More dads means more minds, more hearts, more souls.  It means different perspectives and alternative meanings.  In this new math, 1 + 1 = 3—and that three is a third way, a different way, a new way.  Not better or worse—but different and new.

More dads means double the support for our schools’ staff, teachers, and best of all, kids.

It’s just so clear:  when more dads are out there volunteering with all the moms, our schools will be better places for kids to live, work, and play every day.

Here’s an official call for more dads to volunteer in our schools!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Apron Strings

In the fall of my son's kindergarten year, I received an email notice about a staff appreciation breakfast at his elementary school. Many parent volunteers were needed to feed the teachers and staff: some to help at the weekday morning event, some to prepare food, and others to purchase various items. As a mom working full-time outside the home, I couldn't help at the event, nor did I feel I could manage to whip up something hot, fresh and delicious at 6:00AM to drop off before work. However, I figured I could surely buy bagels and deliver them to the home of the event chair the night before the breakfast.

So, on a Wednesday evening, I battled rush hour traffic from downtown to Edina, picked up my son at KIDS Club at the usual 6:01PM, and took him with me to the local bagel shop to buy 4-5 dozen bagels. I followed directions to a neighborhood in a part of town I'd never known existed. With my son in one arm and a huge bag of bagels in the other, I guess I must have rung the doorbell with my nose. My suit was rumpled and I had runs in my panty-hose. 

At almost 7:00PM, I was greeted by the unfamiliar aroma of a home-cooked meal - one that I suspect actually included a vegetable - and a darling mom. In an apron. An apron? Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a dining room table set for five. I was horrified. We were more than 15 minutes away from home, and a good 30 minutes away from a "meal" likely to come out of a box. As for table settings, we were far more likely to eat standing up with a paper plate.

I stood on the doorstep wondering what cute-mom-in-apron must be thinking of me, and then a full-blown "mommy war" began raging in my head. Were the 1950s back? I didn't get the memo. I was superior with my graduate degree, full time employment AND a child. Wasn't I? Similar thoughts nagged at me as I drove home with a sort of homesickness for a life I didn't have...not to mention hunger pangs induced by the aroma of that meal.

What feels like 100 years later, during a hiatus from full-time work, having become friends with dozens of moms involved in our schools in various capacities, after having volunteered at carnivals, school parties, and countless other tasks, and after having planned, cooked and executed several staff appreciation meals at my son's middle school, I've come to realize that it really does take all kinds of moms contributing what they can, when they can. There was one year in which my only contribution to a meal was the disposable coffee cups.  All are needed to make our schools great places for the teachers, staff, and most of all, for our kids.

A few years after we first met, cute-mom-in-apron went back to work outside the home. Turns out she is smart and talented and also able to produce meals for five at a fully-set dining table. I'm not sure if she still wears that apron. I should not have judged her. I am grateful to her and the many moms like her who do all they can for our schools - when they can. Instead of judging her, I should have thanked her. I thought of her warmly on Mother's Day, but she doesn't even know it.  

A friend recently gave me a floral apron as a gift. I think I'll wear it. Soon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

But, Where Will We Find Community?

Volunteering within my sons’ classrooms and supporting their academic extracurricular activities helped define me throughout their K-12 years in the Edina Public School system. While they were in the Continuous Progress program at Highlands, I enjoyed being a guest reader of chapter books. Middle school found me coaching Knowledge Masters and Academic Triathlon. And during their high school years I chaperoned EHS Orchestra trips and immersed myself in my role as Communications Mentor for the Edina Robotics team during its formative years. My volunteer-mom world and my sons’ world revolved around the schools. But when each of them graduated from EHS (2005, 2007) and headed for distant universities, I lost much more than their companionship–I lost my sense of integration into the community. Where do those of us without children living at home experience community in Edina?

I’ve recaptured that sense of belonging through the Edina Center for Adult Education, a program of the Edina Public Schools for adult learners. Now, every morning finds me exercising, alongside both empty-nesters and moms with kids at home, in fitness classes at the Edina Community Center (ECC). Three mornings a week, I hustle, grapevine, and bob-and-weave my way through aerobics. On the other two days, a small group of friends and I challenge ourselves on resistance equipment in the ECC Weight Room. And each semester I add a different course to learn new fitness skills, like yoga, Pilates, or salsa dancing. 

My fitness classes start my day off with a smile and the knowledge that I am building balance, strength, flexibility and endurance. But in addition to collectively battling against middle-aged spread and age-related deterioration, my fellow classmates and I have the opportunity to share the joys and challenges of our lives with each other. 

The Edina Community Center’s third-floor hallways are abuzz before and after each class with news of our children (those at home and those now living in their own homes), travel (experienced or planned), new grandchildren, recommended books, must-see movies and plays, health issues, and plans for our day. We show our caring and connectedness by listening and sharing. We send cards with well-wishes to classmates who have experienced an injury, had an operation, or lost a spouse. In one of my classes, we maintain our own email list of fellow exercisers, and celebrate each birthday with treats. My exercising colleagues and I have created a real sense of community ‑ at school again. When I’ve completed my fitness routine for the day, I’ve had sufficient social contact to carry me through my mostly-solitary day as a freelance writer.

The next time the course catalog comes to your mailbox (it goes to every household in Edina), take a good look at the full range of course offerings available through the Edina Center for Adult Education. Or, check it out online herePerhaps it’s where you’ll experience community, too.

(Contented Empty Nester)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

artwork by Michael Hlavac
My daughter is a bouncy thing. From the time Lee Lee figured out that her legs were good for something other than assisting her terrible babyhood tantrums, she has used them to propel herself skyward in any way, shape or form. We exhausted her in the Johnny Jump-Up as a baby (until it became hazardous to the door frame), beat up a secondhand exer-saucer and broke two (yes, two!) mini trampolines. A friend once likened her to Tigger on Red Bull. 

In past winters, we took up semi-permanent residence at Edinborough Park, where she spent hours in the inflatable bounce house. But now, at age 7 and in school all day, there's little opportunity for Lee Lee to jump away her jiggles.

As we searched to find a suitable extra-curricular activity that would meet her boundless need to be physical (swimming? gymnastics? professional hopscotch?) an angel appeared on the playground with a couple of jump ropes, a positive attitude and some inspiring rhymes. The answer was clear at that moment: double-dutch.
Coach Jonny and Lee Lee
Coach Jonathan Reese, a.k.a. “Coach Jonny,” works for KIDS Club at Cornelia Elementary and teaches double-dutch skills through Edina Community Education. Every day after school, Coach Jonny ushers the children outside for some fresh air and exercise. Within minutes, a dozen kids mob him, all clamoring for a turn. He’s a real-life Pied Piper and his instrument is a jump rope. Turn by turn, he encourages these little ones to step in and do their best, never rebuking them for failed attempts or delayed entrances. 

This winter our principal worked with Jonny to implement Double-Dutch Wednesdays – an alternative recess choice. Kids from every grade level line the halls each week after lunch for some jumping fun outside on the sidewalk. When the snow was so deep that no flat ground was available, he took his crew to the parking lot. Let me tell you, it was cold. And he was out there. Brrrr!

The program is so popular that Jonny will continue Double-Dutch Wednesdays for the rest of the school year. That means my daughter gets to jump once a week with some new friends to her heart’s content and I don’t have to add another activity to our already-crammed family calendar. That truly means a lot to this Mom/Social Coordinator Extraordinaire! 
Having an alternative recess option has made a huge difference as students of all grade levels traverse the social tides of playground time. It gives them an opportunity to participate in a structured activity, bringing students together with like-interests to promote social interaction in a safe and guided environment. My hope is that we find a way to bring this kind of fun fitness activity to the other schools in our district, as I’m sure there are many more Tiggers in our midst. 

Friday, May 6, 2011


If you are the parent of an Edina High School senior, it's been an important week. May 1st  is the college decision deadline.  It is the culmination of the arduous college search and application process—one that has dominated the landscape of your lives for the last year or two. 

The process is obviously different for each student. Some students are admitted by public universities on rolling admission throughout senior year—perhaps as early as October. Early decision works in the favor of a few. But most students have to wait until April 1st (or pretty darn close) to learn where they have been admitted.
Last year, April 1st fell during Edina’s spring break. While our son had received three acceptances by late March, three still hung in the air…or I should say two waited in cyberspace and one at the Edina post office. We spent spring break of 2010 in New York City. We were so busy sightseeing, shopping, and eating that we didn’t speak of college until the day arrived. On April 1st our son logged on with the laptop. I stayed in the other room and couldn’t watch. He entered his codes for two Ivy League schools and watched the screen as he was rejected by both. No surprise, with acceptance rates of less than 10%. The text messages and postings on Facebook started flying around.We returned home, sorted the mail, and found a big fat envelope from the last school. A yes. 

A neat little ending would be a decision made with no additional fanfare. But that would be too simple. April is the month of ‘Accepted Student Days.’ This is when you make a final visit and the college has its last chance to woo and impress prospective freshmen. If those schools are nearby, you just hop in the car and go. When they are across the country, this means yet another costly trip. Dad and son go back to Boston to re-visit his top two choices. They return. Son doesn’t say a word for three days. We casually mention we would appreciate not waiting until April 30th.

For several days I only speak to my closest friends who are in the same boat. We don’t sleep well. One morning I walk around Lake Harriet with the mother of a gifted musician with extraordinary choices. I hear the details of the high-pressure auditions required and no decision made yet either—it sounds agonizing.

Finally, on Sunday evening after dinner, our son says he has made his decision to attend Boston College.  Though a bit frustrated by his two rejections, he knows he has chosen the school that is a great fit for him in many ways. The blank is finally filled in. His body breathes a visible sigh of relief, and he hugs me like a child. I am relieved, but feel my first tinge of sadness too.

For all you parents of the class of 2011 experiencing a similar scenario, I feel your anxiety. But I also feel your pride and your excitement for the future. I share your gratitude that Edina Public Schools has served your son or daughter well for 13 years. I especially felt this when I saw my son’s first semester transcript with all that college credit earned for his work at Edina High School, fulfilling many core requirements. That happened not only because of our son’s efforts, but also because of his fine EHS teachers and their passion in the classroom.  

I promise that May and June are much more fun! There is prom, May term, award banquets, commencement, and dozens of graduation parties. You will tire of eating cake and sub sandwiches. But you will be happy for everyone, and enjoy the glow of all the graduates’ faces.

Leaving in September? That’s a posting for a different month.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


What:  drama with 54 students, ages 6-12, with little or no experience
Where:  Highlands Elementary School gym
When:  between MAP and MCA testing, and teaching all the usual language arts, science, social studies, math, and reading
Why: to extend the learning to include storytelling, humor, cooperation, flexibility, resourcefulness, perseverance, poise and confidence
Who wants that job?

The cast of Once Upon a Shoe

 Our “Continuous Progress” classroom family has a tradition of producing a spring play. This year, the play was Once Upon a Shoe, a collection of Mother Goose skits. Each year, the two teachers select a play that fits the personality of the class, and they adapt it so that all of the students can participate. As nerve-stretching as it may be to cut enthusiastic students during typical play tryouts, it may not compare to the requirement of casting every student from two connected classrooms that encompass five grades. Younger students pay their dues as snowflakes and carrots, while the older students play the pivotal roles like Mother Goose or Gary Grinkle. (In last year’s play, he had a problem with wrinkles.)

This year, like every year, it was a labor of love, and a lot of work. The two teachers put in hours and hours of their own time. Parents procured gigantic cardboard slabs for the set and sewed costumes. Students painted and created props. The music teacher volunteered her song-adapting services. The working budget was a mind-boggling $0.00. 

Herb Brooks claimed that even Olympic gold couldn’t compare with that early thrill of the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament. A lead role on Broadway could not bring my daughter more euphoria than riding in the minivan over to Highlands to play a little pig.  I see her point.  Anyone can put on a show with actual actors.  It’s another thing to make confident actors out of kids--some who wouldn't normally want to be on stage or who speak in a whisper as their playground voice.

The critics are kind.  Six relatives may be on hand to see the smiling broccoli flourish in the garden. Much like this parent, I’m so grateful that someone thought, “Hey, we can find a play with 54 parts and make some sets and costumes and learn all the parts and do all the rehearsals in between all our other learning.  Why not?”  Thanks to those teachers who took on the challenge. They created a lasting memory for our families.