Mi Familia

Bleeding Black and Gold

It’s playoff day. The entire city is buzzing. Everyone is happy. Even people in work uniforms are wearing black and gold.

Football? What’s that? I’m talking about the Saints!

We go blue in the face talking about this adopted home of ours and in light of the questions — How can you live in New Orleans?  Why do you stay there?  How IS New Orleans these days? — I was hoping to find some words to describe what it’s like to be here right now.  In this season, this day, this moment, where every living thing is thinking and wishing and hoping for the same thing.  This particular marvel of unified thought and energy is actually quite common in New Orleans — we all come together each and every Mardi Gras Day, when we reach up hopeful hands for a Zulu Coconut — but in this instance, in this time and place, we are coming together in a whole different way.  This is something that we can be proud of on a National scale.  In a way and with a spirit that is unique.  The examples are everywhere, but it’s still hard to explain; take this, written last month while we were still undefeated:

… These are strange and beautiful days in New Orleans, and they must be seen to be believed. …  Last week, when I went down to experience the mania over the Saints’ undefeated season firsthand, I found myself not sure whether every street was a dream. Some moments made me laugh, and others were so full of a desperate love that I had tears in my eyes.

Where do you even begin? Maybe you describe the couture shops that have replaced the latest fashions on the storefront mannequins with Saints T-shirts? Maybe you tell how vampire novelist and native New Orleanian Anne Rice, never much of a football fan and now living on the West Coast, recently ordered a Drew Brees jersey with “Anne” on the back. Maybe you use numbers: 84 percent of the televisions in town were tuned to the recent Monday night game against the Patriots. Maybe you use bizarre trends, such as an NOPD cop telling me the 911 calls almost stop when the Saints play …



There are other things, too.  The Cinderella story of our Saints resonates far beyond the football fan base.  Read any article about New Orleans then go to the comments and it all makes sense.  We see the hate: the assertions that the city should be left to rot, the value judgments on our population, the incredible lack of compassion and ignorance of fact.  Yeah, we know it’s some Ditto-head in dark, lonely basement apartment, spewing hate while some porn site loads on another browser window.  But we also know that this loser isn’t spouting off thoughts that haven’t occurred in the minds of more reasonable people.  The fact that our team is composed of players who were similarly doubted, or misjudged, or miscast is simply part of our shared history, where defeat, resurgence, rebuilding, and celebration are all part of the package:

” … They are a motley group, undrafted guys and late-round fliers, players cast off from other teams. Brees landed in town after an injury convinced the Chargers that his best days were behind him. “When we came here,” he has said, “I was in the process of rebuilding, as well.”

Running back Mike Bell was out of football. So was cornerback Mike McKenzie, who watched the games from the stands with a mouthful of food before getting the call a few weeks ago. Darren Sharper arrived unwanted and has resurrected his career. Running back Pierre Thomas wasn’t drafted. Star wide receiver Marques Colston wasn’t drafted until the seventh round of the 2006 draft, and his college football program, Hofstra, just folded.

It goes on and on. This is a team of underdogs. …”



I know that folks love their home teams, their home cities, and all stuff that comes with it.  Every place has something special about it.  But today?  This season?  Well, the professional sport writers put it best:

May I root against the New Orleans Saints?

No, you may not. Rooting against the Saints is like rooting against Elin Nordegren. They’re the Sentimental Team of the Century; if Dick Enberg were calling the NFC championship game, he’d need a trailer truck of Kleenex. Even if you forget everything that New Orleans endured during Hurricane Katrina—and how could you?—they’re the Saints, the former Aints, one of the most hard-luck franchises in the history of hard luck. Not long ago, newborns came into the world in New Orleans hospitals with tiny grocery bags on their heads.

If the Saints win this weekend, we expect the Louisiana Superdome to levitate off the ground, stop at Parkway Bakery & Tavern for a roast beef po’boy and fly straight to Miami for the Super Bowl.



Around here?  We’re preparing for take-off.



Wanna come along?  This will help out.



Or, if you need to ease into it, go with the U.S. Marine Corps Band.

Geaux Saints!

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia
NOLA
Recovery and Rebirth

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Possible Blog Posts for Today

– How I came to clean Kate’s pee off of Will’s bedroom floor this morning.
– The many ridiculous hours it takes to prepare for a board meeting, and by extension, the high suck-factor found in Kinko’s website.
– My fantasy workday, complete with regular deliveries of food I do not cook.
– A discussion of when self-help books become lame and indulgent.
– Paul’s sudden decision to empty, clean, purge, and re-organize the entire kitchen.
– A philosophical quandary regarding house-disruptive projects: does timing matter?
– What mattress is best?
– A 6-year old debate on which is stronger: gorillas or boxers?

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Mi Familia

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Unpleasant.

I am in a really bad mood.

Yes, I’m upbeat and if you ask I’ll be fine, but the truth is that I’m just really pissed off.

I’m pissed that it’s Mardi Gras. I’m not ready for it and therefore, it’s presence and pressure in my life is totally pissing me off. If you’re preparing for, thinking about, or planning for Mardi Gras, I can guarantee that it’s pissing me off. I’m sorry, really. It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m pissed off that I’m not done, that I’m not asleep, and that my sheets aren’t clean. I’m pissed that I didn’t take my jeans out of the dryer and they’ll be short and I fucking HATE that because nothing is more ridiculous than pants that are too short on someone who is already clearly too short.

I’m pissed over the size of the piles of laundry yet to do. And every damn piece of clothing that is stained, inside out, twisted, or mis-organized (which means every damn article there) is each, individually, a source of pissing-me-off. Really, it’s out of control. If you saw it, I feel certain you’d find it pretty offensive. Chances are, it’d piss you off, too.

Every damn sign I see for Jay Batt pisses me off.

I’m pissed over work stuff for which I have no control and pissed over work stuff for which I do have control. I’m pissed that I’m distracted. I can’t stay on schedule and I can’t clear my schedule and it pisses me off. Every new tidbit of information to process, new detail to remember, new task to incorporate feels oppressive and stifling.

I hate feeling oppressed and stifled.

I’m pissed about people. I’m pissed about places. And I’m pissed that I’m even bothering to be pissed about people and places.

And I’m pissed that I really shouldn’t be pissed because horrible things are happening in the world and we’re okay so I don’t have any right to be pissed in the first place. By all rights, I should be bouncing out of bed every morning, eager to work to enjoy all we have going for us. I try to turn it around, picturing myself greeting the bright day with flowers in my hair and a smile for each moment but that image really gets on my nerves.

Try as I may, in my heart of hearts, I just feel pretty unpleasant.

Am I just a total whiny bitch? It’s okay, please tell the truth. It doesn’t matter because either way, my guess is that it will piss me off.

A good chaser is needed here. Something sickly cute. So cute it might even piss you off. I take no offense if it does. I know it’s not personal.

Family
Issues
Mi Familia

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Ninja Training, a demonstration.

NINJA TRAINING. (Or so we’re told.) As demonstrated by Will, age 6.

Mi Familia
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FIRE.

By the time I sat up, Paul was flying into Kate’s room.  He was shouting, but I couldn’t hear.  It was all too loud.  What was he saying?  Something about smoke.  And… fire.  A placid voice was booming that word between the whoops and beeps and wails of the endless alarm.  FIRE FIRE. GET OUT.

I walked out to the doorway just as Will reached his, groggy and looking panicked.  Kate was sitting up in her bed, trying to decide whether to cry in fear or indignation from the rude awakening.  I took both kids back to our bed, showing them with my own hands how they could cover their ears to keep out the sound.  Will looked conflicted.

“Mommy,” he hesitated, “shouldn’t we leave?” His shout comes out as a wail.

“Do you see any smoke, Will?”

“No…. but…”

“We’re probably okay.  Daddy is checking the house.  Let’s stay warm and wait for him, okay?”

Or maybe I just grunted and pointed, I don’t remember.   We shuffle into the bed, where thankfully the cat has had the good sense not to move.  We lift him with the covers and slide under his warm spot.  Kate has both hands over her ears.

In case you haven’t experienced the assault of a full-house fire alarm, let me describe it.  By code they are wired to all go off anytime one senses danger.  Each alarm has a different tone, each delivered at a deafening level.  When combined, it’s oddly melodic, with occasional commentary (FIRE FIRE GET OUT) from a humorless voice.   The sound is instantly overwhelming.  It’s repulsive enough that after a minute, you start to feel sick.  Will has a point; we should leave.  Who cares if the house is on fire or not?

Paul has finished his flying around the house, turned on all lights, and emerges in the doorway with a wild look in his eye.  “THERE’S NO SMOKE.”  He’s shouting at the top of his lungs.  “BUT I CAN’T TELL WHICH OF THEM CAUSED THE ALARM.”  His update comes at us in a rush and he’s off again retrieving a ladder.

Our shotgun house is 23 feet wide, and with the exception of the front room, holds rooms that, at the absolute widest, are 12 feet.  Add in cabinets or furniture, and getting an 8′ foot ladder through the room, set up, used, and then out again is not particularly easy.

Especially at 1:30 in the morning.  On one of the coldest nights on record in the city.

Luckily, our outbuilding is (still) under construction and the back room (still) holds all Paul’s tools.  Yes, technically it means that the kids could potentially decide to play around with a hacksaw, but (upside!) it also means that Paul does not have to go outside to retrieve a ladder.  Score one for slow-moving DIY home renovation.

It takes him just over 20 minutes to disable all of the alarms.  Disable = remove.

Thank goodness that this happened while Paul was home.

Finally, there is sweet, blessed silence.  The drama hasn’t ended, but at least it’s quiet.  You can hear echoes of the sound leave our skin as we start to breathe a little easier.

Paul announces that he’s found the culprit: it was the detector in Kate’s room.

I push out the memory of Jenny, a teaching colleague at Michigan, who lost her entire primary source document collection, the result of more of a year’s dissertation research in Ghana, to a fire that smoldered quietly in the exterior wall of her apartment for more than 24 hours before bursting into flame through her wall.  Surely, I say to myself, Kate’s room is fine.

Right?

I’m probably willing to say it’s fine, just to go back to sleep (big day! tomorrow! must leave house at 7am!)  But I’m married to a responsible sort of guy and he’s not keeping his family in an unsafe house, by golly!   He increases the intensity of the inspection.  He re-checks all rooms.  He conducts a flashlight search in the attic.  He even braves the bitter cold to look around outside.  (In retrospect, this is actually sort of hot, no?)

Meanwhile, he’s clearly irritated that he cannot identify a reason to cause the alarm.  (Scotland Yard would be no help at all, Watson!  We must uncover the true source of the misery!)  The three of us, Will, Kate, and I, lay in bed listening to the bumping, ruffling, shifting sounds of Paul’s thorough inspections.  Ever the helpful boy, Will offers his best hypotheses.

“Mommy, you know, the Addisonhunters are a group of very very very old ninjas who hunt down fires in the deep woods of Chinese….”  (Hey, at least Will offers comic relief.)  I do my best to calm the kids, who are still wide-eyed and dazed.

Finally, Paul is convinced that there is no immediately identifiable danger.

“Okay,” he says, holding on to a smoke detector, “I’ll start putting them back now.”

“WHAT?” (I’m thinking he’s out of his mind.)

Paul looks incredulous.  “You don’t want to sleep in a house with no smoke detectors, do you?”  Oh, right.  Probably not a good idea, especially tonight.  Thank goodness one of us considers these things.

After a half hour of taking down the offending alarms and 20 minutes of searching for signs of smoke, Paul starts the weaving-the-ladder-through-the house game.  We listen to his progress as his selects a few rooms to re-equip.  Fifteen minutes later…

FIRE FIRE.  GET OUT.

Yes.  It starts again.

The fifth of the five alarms he’s re-installed triggers a repeat performance.  Oddly enough, we discover five alarms to be surprisingly equal in sound level to the previous 11 (12 if you count the carbon monoxide detector).

Kate sighs heavily and turns to once again, cover her ears.  “Mommy,” she shouts, exasperated, “is our house on fire AGAIN?”

* Update.   Neither Paul nor I slept a bit for the rest of the night, and no one slept in Kate’s room.   Paul replaced the offending alarms (which he discovered had a high false-positive rate) with better-rated units and replaced all batteries.

Family
Mi Familia

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Birthday, presents, and another year…

***** BIRTHDAY

Did you catch that thing in the last post about the Epiphany celebrations in Ireland?  Where they honor today as “Women’s Christmas” and all the women party all day while the good gents take over all duties of home and family?  I completely and totally subscribe to that tradition as my Official Birthday Tradition from now on.  Paul willingly and thoughtful fulfilled all that he could to free me up today, but unfortunately work was not quite so forgiving.  Next year I’ll plan ahead.

***** PRESENTS

Alejna and I are introducing THE BEST OF JUST POSTS 2009 — we (with other readers, hopefully you, too!) are looking for THE BEST Just Posts from last year.  Nominations for the year’s best posts are currently being accepted.  In roughly two weeks (stay tuned!) we will open up a space for online voting and give awards (presents! whee!) to the winner in each category.  (You’re perfectly welcome to start practicing your fabulous acceptance speech; you’ll find no judgment here.)

You can view all the Just Posts from last year by going here and read more about the Just Posts here.

Just Post entries are encouraged from anyone at anytime!

***** AND ANOTHER YEAR…

I participated in Holidailies again this year and enjoyed the challenge.  My humble thanks go out to the two who host the event.  The community they create is warm and friendly; I’ve found other interesting and kind bloggers through the site.  They also chose a ‘best of’ that is selective enough to be manageable to read, which is a great way to find other interesting blogs (and thank you, mystery readers for my own additions to this list!)

*****

Milestones

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Epiphany 101


Borrowing from the incomparable list-making of Alejna, this is a list related to EPIPHANY.

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Epiphany: In name and title


Epiphany: Sudden flashes of realization

  • Epiphany, the sudden discovery of some meaning.
  • Epiphany is also used to describe religious visions, such as Theophany, Hierophany, and Darsana.


Epiphany: A holiday around the world

  • According to the Gospel of Matthew, the three Kings (Magi) followed a Star in the heavens to the Baby Jesus, arriving with gifts for him on the day now celebrated as Epiphany.  Melchior represented Europe, arrived on horseback and brought gold.  Gaspar represented Arabia, arrived in camel, and brought frankincense.  Balthazar represented Africa, arrived on elephant, and brought myrrh.  Most Christian calendars recognize this date as January 6th.
  • Some branches of Christianity celebrate the coming of Epiphany by honoring it as the Twelfth Night.  These Christians Twelve Holy Days from December 26th to January 6th is considered the spiritual heart of the year to follow, with January 6th as “Holy of the Holiest.”
  • In England, “Twelfth Night” is traditionally the last opportunity to party before the resumption of post-holiday work.  The “Yule Log” is kept lit until Twelfth Night to bring good fortune in the new year.
  • Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the Baptism of Jesus with the Feast of Theophany (literally, “manifestation of God”) on January 6th.  They also perform the “Great Blessing of the Waters.”  In Greek Orthodox tradition, during the “Blessing of the Waters” celebration, young men dive into the water to retrieve a cross that was thrown in by a priest after being blessed.  The first man to find it is believed to have good luck for a year.
  • In Ireland, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th under the name Little Christmas (Nollaig Bheag) , or Women’s Christmas.  This is the first time I’ve heard of Women’s Christmas (Nollaig na mBan), but the general idea is that men take up all duties related to house, home, and family, and women party all day.
  • Italian children hang their socks on the eve of January 6th for Befana to visit to fill them with candy or coal, behavior dependent.  This is similar to Russia’s Baboushka who also provides presents on the eve of Epiphany.
  • In Spanish tradition, on the even of the Day of the Kings (El Dia de los Reyes), children polish and leave their shoes ready to accept presents from the Kings.  Roscon, a special type of bread decorated with candy fruit, is made.
  • In Mexico, children may leave shoes near the family nativity season or under a tree, with notes with toy requests for the Kings, sometimes with offerings of hay for the Kings’ animals.  A bread called Rosca de Reyes is made in the shape of a King’s crown and holds a small doll inside.  The person who finds the doll in their bit of Rosca is responsible for throwing a party on February 2nd, “Candelaria Day”.
  • Similarly, in Puerto Rico, children traditionally fill a box with hay and put it under their beds.  They eat Rosca de Reyes in the evening, with a small doll inside representing the baby Jesus.
  • The Christmas season ends on January 6th in the Philippines for Tatlong Hari (“Three Kings”).  Children here also leave shoes out, so that candy or money may be placed inside.  Others greet one another with the phrase “Happy Three Kings!”
  • The gâteau des Rois is eaten in France on Epiphany.  This is a kind of king cake, with a trinket (usually a porcelain figurine of a king) or a bean hidden inside.  The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes “king” for a day.  King cakes are eaten in other areas of Europe, including Belgium and Portugal.
  • King Cake is also available in Louisiana starting on January 6th, as Epiphany marks the start of the Carnival Season, which lasts to Mardi Gras Day.  (Side note: I’m all about blasphemy, but eating King Cake before January 6th is seriously messed up.)


Epiphany: The day that comes tomorrow

  • Epiphany = January 6th = tomorrow.
  • It is the last day of the yearly daily blogging event, Holidailies.
  • King cakes will go on sale in New Orleans; Paul will have jury duty; and Kate will go to the Aquarium on a field trip.
  • My age will change from age 21 to age 22.  In hex.
  • Tomorrow, January 6th, is My Birthday.

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What we missed today.

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Mi Familia

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Starting off the New Year, in pictures.

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Family Life in NOLA
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Where I vent on education, immersion, and the experience of being a parent.

The New Year is upon us, which means the families of New Orleans are gearing up for two seasons: Mardi Gras and School-finding.  Schools have their application deadlines about now, along with lotteries for selection into charter schools and deposits to hold places in prospective elementary (and in some cases pre-k) schools.  It’s a big game in these parts, a system built on payment and privilege from start to finish.  For many schools, families are required to shell out big bucks (think, $300+ per kid) for an “evaluation” of their 3 or 4 or 5 year old child’s “intelligence” in the hopes that if he or she is granted a “gifted” distinction that would allow them eligibility.  For the private schools, it’s yet-another-hurdle to cross.  For the public-schools-gone-charter, it’s a way to keep some screening in place.  (Plus, schools get extra funding if they provide services to a “special needs” population — meaning that programs to fill the needs of the “gifted” 5-year old are abundant in New Orleans.)

As you can tell from my liberal use of quotations, I think the whole system is sick.  The measure of gifted-ness by our local evaluators are, at best, an assessment of how much time a parent or other caring adult has spent nurturing that particular child’s creativity and spirit.  In reality?  Well, children that go to the paid evaluation service have a much greater likelihood of walking away with an intelligence label than children who go to the school system’s service.  We all know it is ridiculous; no one I know actually takes any of these tests seriously.  It’s just one more stupid hoop we have to jump through to navigate our families through the murky and dangerous waters of New Orleans education.  You do it because you have to and then you move on.

One of my largest frustrations is that I have absolutely no idea how I could even begin to advocate for any type of change.  I do believe that personal is political — but that doesn’t mean I’m simply going to send my kids to the public school down the street.  How can I advocate for change when I am using every bit of privilege we have — economic, social, racial — to see that our own children are given the best opportunities we can provide?

These are my frustrations with our local schools.  That they are structured, specifically, to enforce class barriers and continue to be successful in their intent.  It forces me to consider dark and ugly realities of our world and consciously decide where I want to put my children within them.

*****

Even before our kids were born, we knew that early immersion in a second language was our absolute, number one priority for our children.  One of the reasons we love being in New Orleans is that we are able to give our children that gift of immersion right here… in immersion schools.  New Orleans has a number of schools, both private and charter (public) that run language immersion programs.  Each one runs a bit differently, but the bottom line is this: from pre-school through 5th grade, students are taught in a language other than English for every lesson.

Our children have attended a French immersion school for the past 1 1/2 school years.  Our school is private.  The application did not require intelligence testing or extensive observation, focusing instead on questions designed to assess the family’s level of commitment to immersion education.  Other immersion programs run as charter schools through the public school system.  They have yearly lotteries which take in various demographics of applications to ensure diversity in each class.  For Paul and I, immersion schools are the programs of choice.  These are the educational experiences that make life here unique and special.  We believe it’s worth living here to take advantage of those opportunities.

There are scientific reasons.  Language development is time-sensitive in the brain.  It’s easier to learn languages at younger ages because of how the brain develops.  Over time, various doors of opportunity close.  For example, the ability to acquire the sounds and accents of a native speaker ceases around age 6.  In short, if you want to give your child the gift of language — then the earlier you immerse them in it, the better.

Plus, there are other benefits.  Child education and development literature talk about strides in cognitive development in immersion kids compared to English-only education — stuff like more flexible thinking and greater ability to handle nonverbal problem-solving.  Also, there are three decades of solid evidence that immersion kids perform better in both standardized math and language tests administered in English.  Yes, yes, it’s true: putting your kid in a school that teaches him all day in a language OTHER than English will, in fact, improve their English more than if they were in a school that spoke English to them all day.

In short, hearing a second language on a regular basis from a live human being is a great thing for kids.

But.  Being part of an immersion program takes a big leap of faith for an English-speaking parent.  For one, teachers are not necessarily fully fluent in English.  This can be a little unsettling for parents, naturally, because communicating with your kid’s teacher about complex behaviors and assignments and who-knows-what-else is pretty darn important.  But is it a deal-breaker?

Well, Paul and I speak Spanish.  We’ve lived in Latin America over extended time periods (though never longer than 10 weeks) and know what it feels like to work to understand and be understood.  We’re not native speakers nor are we fluent — in short, we’re not unlike many of our kids teachers.  Having been in the hot-seat ourselves (so to speak) we do have a good sense of what they feel when they try to talk to us and we know how that the in-ability to find the “right” word in English does not mean that they don’t understand us, the problem, or our child.  It takes a leap of faith on our part that they are competent in ways that we won’t necessarily see: in their work, in their nurturing of our kids, in the curriculum.  Within many aspects of the school-child-teacher interaction, there are cultural and linguistic factors to consider.

That said, last year, it was Will’s teacher who suggested that Will was having trouble hearing.  (She was 100% correct.)  This year, his new teacher continued to help us with Will’s hearing problems, as well as with his particular learning style.  When we have had a question or a concern, cultural and linguistic differences did not matter.

For us, we have found it exciting and educational to learn some French.  Will and Kate participate in French holidays, learns French songs, sees French cartoons, reads classic French tales, and cooks French foods.  Each and every one of these have been different from the early education experiences had by Paul and me; but we are enjoying each opportunity.  It is a big leap of faith for parents, because it is so different: school performances aren’t of Row, Row, Row Your Boat — but of Le Petits Poissons.  I admit that I feel some relief when Will spontaneously sings Down By the Bay, or Jingle Bells, because I want him to know these songs, too.

It is both exciting and scary that he is learning things I cannot teach him.  Even more, he is learning things that I, myself, don’t know.  That, I think, is the greatest sacrifice a parent makes within these programs — you have to trust someone else so much that you are willing to let them teach your child things that you, yourself, don’t understand.  It’s sort of scary to suddenly not have total control and awareness.  It requires a big leap of faith.

Even with that uncertainty, we love the immersion experience.  Will’s enthusiasm for French is inspiring.  We are impressed at Kate’s sophistication regarding language, her clear comprehension of the many ways there are the communicate, and how many words exist to describe the same thing.  It was no small feat to trust in a system completely new to us and we can confidently say that we are thrilled: our children love their school and embrace the culture and language it teaches.  We enthusiastically recommend immersion education and are grateful to be a part of our school.

*****

But then there is the here and now.  Rising tuition is forcing the questions of schools, which forces me to the harsh reality that the quality of schooling my kids are getting is not commonplace.  ALL kids should have access to education that fosters their creativity, imagination, and spirits — that gives them new skills and confidence.  And I feel badly that I am better positioned than others to fight for my child’s right to that experience, and guilty that I am weighing financial considerations into the equation.  Will we find a more affordable immersion experience?  Will we be able to afford another year where we are?  Is there a clear “right” choice in there that we are missing?

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia
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