What Happens To An Incompetent Teacher at Jeffco? Sadly, Very Little. #NotAnotherDimeJeffco


Visitors, last month I published a column detailing the flagrant incompetence of two teachers that my children had to endure at Evergreen Senior High.

That column has netted me several ugly comments, a couple of near threats, and several anonymous, cowardly, lying reviews on Google regarding my early childhood facility, Evergreen Academy.

Regarding the comments, well, words have consequences, but if criticizing me for writing the truth is all you can do, then have at it. Regarding the threats? My course of graduate study could not have been better timed. I’m studying Criminology and Behavioral Deviance at a local university, and a very good name for the McCord-Fritzler-Kwasny crowd (who I am certain are behind the words) is “deviants”. It gives me great joy to now possess the digital forensic tools to track down these criminals, especially if they choose to escalate their behavior beyond harassing me. Wendy McCord, Shawna Fritzler, Scott Kwasny, Michael Blanton, Tina Gurdikian? I’m warning you off, so behave yourself.

Regarding the deceitful attacks through Google reviews? After my brother, John Newkirk, had the safety of his children and family threatened in Evergreen, I stopped being amazed at the lengths this crowd will stoop force their agenda on the Jeffco public. Evergreen Academy isn’t bulletproof, nothing is, but it’s a place full of love, kindness and skilled care for the youngest and most vulnerable in Evergreen. Keep up the lying reviews, anti-reformers, and you’ll likely find yourself at the mercy of a crowd of young parents who love what we do at EA.

Now, to the topic at hand. I’d like you to lean in with me here, Visitors, this is a little complicated, but I have faith in you. Colorado recently enacted a teacher effectiveness law, Senate Bill 191, in an effort to address teacher effectiveness.

In Jefferson County, new teachers are hired on a ‘probationary’ status for three years. Their contracts are year to year, and at the end of each year they can be dismissed for any reason allowed by law.

(For us civilians, that means that budget issues, student shifts, or poor fashion choices could lead to a dismissal during the three ‘probationary years’. Virtually any reason.) According to this law, probationary teachers must have three ‘effective’ evaluations to be considered for tenure.

“Ineffective” evaluations can be appealed, often at Union expense. You can appeal a poor evaluation and keep your job, and this can take months.

So, it hangs on the evaluations. Here’s where it gets interesting, Visitors. According to Senate Bill 191, HALF of the evaluation has to be based on student achievement. Seems reasonable, no? You are rated on all kinds of things: lesson planning, classroom structure, classroom conduct, can you play nice in the sandbox with other staff, and ARE YOUR STUDENTS MASTERING YOUR MATERIAL. Are they even close? Are they making progress from the beginning of the year to the end?

You have three years, THREE, to prove that you know your craft. Regarding effectiveness, achievement scores are NOT available to be included in your annual evaluation. Why is that? Generally, because the scores are returned to schools in July, long after ratings are completed. So, principals and fellow teachers who rate you, do NOT include effectiveness in your scores, even though they are required to by law. Here’s why that should concern you greatly.

jeffco-math-csap-tcap-2014

Where is the emphasis on achievement? Where?! Jeffco has 87,000 of our children, and is UTTERLY ineffective in teaching them math. Grade schoolers, (my favorite population and area of specialty) start out well, likely because of their natural eagerness to learn. Please, Visitors, I’m pleading with you, note the terrible, precipitous drop by high school.

How will we advance? How will our children gain the technology oriented skills they must have without foundational math? Reading and science scores are similarly terrible.

By tenth grade, FAR less than half of our children are NOT proficient in math. Where else can we look besides disinterested teachers? Yet, out of 4,700 teachers in Jeffco, not ONE teacher will lose their tenure do to ineffective teaching. (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2016/07/14/denver-public-schools-set-to-strip-nearly-50-teachers-of-tenure-protections-after-poor-evaluations/#.V_AUGJMrJE5)

Cheryl Manning is safe.

Dave Myers will keep his job.

Effective teachers, of which there are many, will continue to get lost in a crowd of disinterested, lectern-pounding, ineffective teachers who will keep their jobs until retirement. This must stop.

Again, Visitors, this is just exhausting. Jeffco is a mess.

Here’s what you can do, in fact, this is the only moral thing you can do.

DON’T VOTE FOR THE JEFFCO BOND ISSUE #NOTANOTHERDIMEJEFFCO

VOTE NO! This is a 565$ Million dollar ask for a system that is completely broken, disinterested in student achievement and thoroughly infested with corruption and inefficiency. More on that later.

IT REALLY IS A BILLION DOLLARS

You must, simply must, demand that Jeffco do its job, and that is to educate! This bond issue will take ONE BILLION DOLLARS to repay, while student achievement will continue to decline.

This simply makes no sense. Demand it, visitors. Demand accountability.

We owe it to our kids.

Much respect,

Victoria

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The Education Of Victoria Faith


My firstborn daughter graduated yesterday, Visitors, and it rocked.

Victoria Faith was the smallest of my biological crew, weighing at at 6 lbs 12 oz. She had the biggest head of the bunch, though, and makes a habit out of apologizing to me every birthday. This running joke still cracks me up.

That head proved to be stuffed with brains, as this kid talked at about eight months, showed remarkable fine motor coordination early, and not an iota of interest in walking until she was nearly 2. Early childhood specialists know that could be cause for concern, so we had that enormous head scanned to check for problems, anomalies and incubating aliens. Nothing out of whack, just a cantaloupe held up on a fragile neck-stalk, and we had to be careful until she grew into it.

Grad Cap Fits

It normalized, eventually.

Victoria Faith was, of course, one of four reasons why I felt the burning desire to start Evergreen Academy. As most of you know, Visitors, Jefferson County Public Schools is a flaming train wreck, and is getting worse as time goes by. (More on that later)

Jeffco was in bad shape in the nineties, and I simply could not abide the idea of sacrificing my children on that particular altar. Victoria Faith was a case in point. When she was three, she had a preschool teacher that went a little overboard on phonics instruction for preschoolers. Three year olds should not have direct phonics instruction, and I was constantly correcting that particular teacher. That said, Victoria Faith made these mysterious synaptic connections, and one day when she was four, Chris caught her reading Curious George out loud to herself. Fluently. With expression.

Faith’s intellectual development proceeded by leaps and bounds after that. I knew what was going on, and as with all my kids, I handpicked their public school teachers when they entered public high school. Largely, Faith’s public school teachers were a good influence on her, and Chris and I mitigated the influence of the bad ones.

Salutatorian Faith

She rocked the Salutatorian stage.

Chris and I started saving for our children’s post-high school education after they got their Social Security numbers. (With four of them, we knew we better start early. ) When Chris died,  all of the kids really dialed in on the financial arrangements for college.  All of them could see me working hard for that goal, and were hugely appreciative when Poppa wrote the occasional check for that purpose. All of them stayed on task, but Faith’s path was the most torturous, in my opinion. THREE sections of Organic Chemistry? Organic Chemistry FaithThat says “Orgo III Reaction Guide – Wheeee!”.  (I have very sarcastic children.)

Jeep picture with Chris

Victoria Faith was about thirteen when this picture was taken. Chris was diagnosed shortly after.

Chris left us when Victoria Faith was sixteen, and that considerable brain power was knocked cleanly off the rails. Victoria Faith, like all of my children, was devastated.

I have never gotten permission from my children to detail  here what they experienced when they lost their father. Life was shattered for all of them. They loved their dad. Life, though, has this tendency to go on.

Faith End of Freshman Year

Victoria Faith struggled through her first year at DU. She made it.

Fem in Stem pic

She developed her own interests, and her own delightful friend group.

Robin and Faith

Distinctive Thesis Award -Faith

 

 

 

 

She made a wonderful, wonderful connection with this woman, Dr. Robin Tinghitella. Dr. Tinghitella  is a PH.D primary investigator at DU’s Tinghitella Lab, where like minded-scientists study rapid evolutionary change in organisms such as crickets and sticklefish. (http://mysite.du.edu/~rhibbs2/Robin_Tinghitella/Welcome_1.html) With Robin’s rigorous review, Victoria Faith earned a Distinctive UndergraduateThesis award.

All of this with me providing the most minimal, diminishing guidance. Visitors, those of you who , like me, have been visited with loss, remember the days when it seemed like nothing would ever change? Loss is here. It is defining. It rains on my days, it deepens my nights. I will not see the clear light of day anytime soon, maybe not ever.

Mom and Faith Graduation

Faith in auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

Things change, Visitors.

Things change for the better.

 

Like a friend of mine once said – “What are you going to do with it now? ”

Faith and Mom Walking

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

Life, Death and Sandwich Mothering


Hi gang, it’s nice to see you again. I recently made contact with my friend Bird Martin at http://everyonehasastory.me/        Bird has a heroine role in my life. When I first started blogging after my husband Chris died of colon cancer,  Bird Martin was the very first person who made any comment at all on my columns.

It was a revelation. I wasn’t just talking to myself? Egads. Someone else might actually listen, and perhaps, even, BENEFIT from what I had to say? It couldn’t be so.

But it was. Bird and I developed a rollicking friendship, culminating with a visit to Colorado. Over the past year though, life has intruded, and we had fallen out of touch. I determined (or “Purposed” in Christianspeak) to catch up on her blog, and am backtracking. (Bird, dear, I am on October 2013)

Our lives have run parallel courses, and I am wondering how many of you are walking the same road. My dad has been sick too, Bird. Last fall, he fell in his house, and wasn’t discovered for nearly a day. Up to this point, he had refused daily care, accepting only the three hour daily visit from the local Visiting Angels helping agency. My brother and I check on him daily, of course, but his fall happened after all of those ‘safety checks’ took place. Of course.

Can't put 94 candles on that!

Dad just had a birthday. Can’t put 94 candles on that!

So, we went through the tiresome process of rehab, where these sparkling new hospitals treated my father like a number, and we eventually found him a place a mere three miles from our homes, which he seems to enjoy. His intellectual abilities are slowly fading, and he needs more and more care.

It’s difficult to ‘mother’ my dad. Once again I’ve gotten some pretty solid advice from people who sit around and think about this stuff for a living. I’m told as much time as I can give him, I ‘ll be glad I did later. Those of you who’ve been with me for a while, know that at the beginning of victoriasvisits, I wrote a lot about being constantly pelted by death for about 18 months. First Chris, then my dear friend Mickey, then Emily Berkeley, Tom Seedroff, and many others. It got old.

Being around Dad sometimes has that effect. That makes me terrible, I realize. Playing cards with Dad at his new place, and wondering, “Hmm, this could be the last time I play cards with Dad.” How morbid is that? Dad is aiming for three digits, which is cool. I think it would be hilarious to have a centenarian in the family. But I keep on remembering Mom. January 7th, 2010, she gave my daughter a birthday card, told her she looked gorgeous and wished her a happy birthday. That night she blew out an artery in her brain the size of a pencil and was gone in eight minutes.

What to do, though? Not hang around Dad because he could drop at any second? Hell’s bells, he coined that one. “Kids, I have one foot in the grave already, so be aware!” Got it, Dad.

Nope, not an option. I muster up the strength, drive over there, play cards, eat cake, and drop off Engstroms Toffee beside his bed. (He forgets I bring it to him, so his care provider and I joke that he must think the Candy Fairy comes from time to time.)

In the mean time, get a load of this bunch.

Aroo! Down we go!

Aroo! Down we go!

The Lierheimer gang at Vail. Where did these adults come from?

The Lierheimer gang at Vail. Where did these adults come from?

Chris and I used to joke that we’d be poor in our dotage, but we’d have a great bunch of little powderhounds. It’s true! The bigger kids all had spring break at the same time, so they came back from their various colleges and we took off to Vail for a few days.

Chris and I were a great parenting team. Boy, do I wish he were around for this one. See, we believed very much in the power of habits, and repeated activities simply being normal. So, we committed that each kid would get ten years of concentrated ski instruction. (Nothing too intense, Copper has an 8 week program we did for years, then extra family days, of course)

The point being, that when they were done with that, each kid could ski anything on the mountain. Then, when they start to scatter and live their lives, as they are beginning to do, the thought process would go something like this:

“Hmm, what to do with my two weeks paid this year? Huh, a few days in Colorado skiing with the sibs? Sure! Sounds like a blast!” Mothering these kids through this and various other transitions to adulthood takes a lot of intentionality.

Planning to see my increasingly childlike dad is also quite a trip. But right now? I think I’m good with it.

What do you folks think? Sign in below if you’re a sandwich mom or dad, let’s hear your stories.

Much love,

Victoria

On Kenya, Uhuru and My Own Freedom Child


“232234523234”

A line of random digits appeared across my Caller ID. I’m always suspicious of that kind of thing, I’m amazed that Apple hasn’t figured out how to conquer phone spam yet.

“Victoria Lierheimer”.

Chris started identifying himself by his name about a year before he was diagnosed. Sounded more professional than ‘Hello’, he thought. Frankly, I thought it was just a more intimidating way to answer the phone,  and I liked it.

“Hi Mom!” There was a slight pause, “It’s Faith! I’m using  E-‘s phone! He can get reception in Kenya and I can’t!”

Good Heavens! The Luddite in me is still astonished that communication can take place halfway around the world through this slim little metal box in my hand. One of my babies was calling my phone, maintaining that family connection that has grown as slender as a spider silk, these days.

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that Faith and Christopher were rear-ended by a careless driver coming home from my mother’s funeral, January, 2012.  (For details, the essay here is “The Surprising Adventures of Single Motherhood”) Faith broke her wrist, and Christopher sustained a minor concussion.

The other driver was fine. As “Death By Infuriated Mother” is not acceptable punishment for such carelessness, I had to settle for a personal injury attorney. He netted all accident-related bills paid for, of course, and a small cash settlement for both children.

For Faith, this settlement proved to be pivotal in her growth. We had long talks about what ‘pain and suffering’ actually mean in an award like this, and it was a great opportunity for self-awareness.

How would this cash help alleviate the ‘pain and suffering’ brought on by this accident? What would a bigger bank balance actually do for the pain of suffering an injury on the day of her beloved grandmother’s internment?

Well, it’s a matter of the heart, really. Faith’s heart, along with those of the rest of my children, had been crushed by the death of their father, a mere 18 months earlier. Then, Nana passed, another blow. What would serve to help lift Faith out of this accident-aggravated depression?

Enter Uhuru Child.

http://www.uchild.com/

Uhuru means ‘freedom’ in Swahili, and it’s an effort by Brad Brown and his wife Annie Johnson to figure out sustainable solutions to enormous poverty problems in Kenya.

Faith is near Nairobi

Faith is near Nairobi

These kids are exploding with the desire to bring some sort of the life of Jesus Christ to people mired in some staggering poverty.

Faith, at 19, is on the cusp of figuring out what direction she wants her life to go. All of my children are fairly other-centered, thank God, and every one of them have some pretty interesting unselfish stories to tell.

But Faith is the one who’s inner well-being seems to depend on this type of thing. She decided that this is where she would like to spend her money. She decided this in March, and has researched, worked and learned about the goals over there for months. It was a remarkable thing to watch. This goal really has done a lot to alleviate her ‘pain and suffering’, and breathe some life into her developing adulthood.

Uhuru child has a major goal of sustainability. Western charitable projects in countries like Kenya develop an unhealthy dependence on the flow of money from their donors. When that flow dries up, so do the projects.

Uhuru child has a goal of developing jobs and schools that can maintain themselves. Click on this thing to see something you don’t see in America. This is awesome.

http://vimeo.com/47913640

Faith has been working on lettuce farm for a week. With U-child’s inital startup, this is a functioning, self-sustaining business, that will be there long after the Westerners go home. 

Faith will be there for another week. My child’s heart is changing, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Much love to you, Visitors.

Victoria

Addenda: Recently I’ve taken more care with studying faces. Here a couple for you!

Goofie selfies are the universal language of fun!

Goofie selfies are the universal language of fun!

Building Bridges in Kenya

Building Bridges in Kenya

On Christian Misogyny and Feral Children


Last week was an interesting one for me in the annals of human behavior. A friend of mine started a  program at my church.  I wanted to help and provide some financial support. It was turned down by the board of elders, all of whom are white, wealthy men.

Now, before I lose you, understand that I’ve devoted a large part of my teaching career to carrying out what Martin Luther King really meant when he said that he wished his children would be judged not by the ‘color of their skin, but the content of their character.’ If he were alive today, I would venture to say that gender blindness would also be a desired outcome.

I also like men. I have nothing against a white, wealthy man being in charge, as long as he shows some common sense and Christlike character. Still, sometimes things just set my teeth on edge.

My friend has devoted the past two decades of her life to meeting the needs of older singles like me. (Funny, I don’t really see myself as ‘older’ at 48, but it is different, and a lot more fun than in my twenties. ) She started a group whose goal was to provide an environment where singles could meet and mingle that was not a bar, or some other obnoxious meeting venue where chemicals and poor behavior are to be expected.

With a few exceptions, Christian values are upheld, and the group seems to be meeting a need in the greater Denver area.

Here’s the delicate part. Jesus is pretty clear that when Christians get involved in charitable giving, one hand isn’t supposed to know what the other is doing. In other words, if you blow your horn, that’s all the recognition you’re going to get. So give, give generously, but shut up about it.

It came to my attention that the group could benefit from some transitional funding, as the church is quite large, and has a budget cycle that should be respected. The fiscal year for this church begins in January.

I offered to provide the funding, not to the church, but directly to the (currently unpaid) leadership.

(Charitable giving used to be a source of great joy for Chris, my late husband, and me. We did our homework, looked at budgets and business structures, administrative costs, and gave where it would do the most good. I miss that intensely.)

The approving elders set a meeting for last January. Then February. Then March. Last week, they finally had a meeting to decide whether or not to fund the position, which, by the way, was largely with my money.

The conclusion? Outside funds cannot be used to fund church programs, and my friend could wait until the next budget cycle to get a real decision. Thanks but no thanks, Victoria, you can keep your money.

Well, that’s mighty white of you, sirs. I venture to say, that if my friend were a man, and I hard- charging male CEO, the outcome would have been different.

Let me pause before I grind my teeth into a powder. Older singles are very much “The least of these” in the eyes of the church. You can really tell a lot about the character of a person, and a church, by how dismissive they can be to the powerless and poor.

Argh.

Next, stand up if any of you had child development in college. Did you ever study feral children?

I had a phone call today from a client that I think may have been thrust into raising  genuinely feral children.

Wikipedia has a pretty good functional definition of a feral children:

Genie (feral child)

Genie (feral child) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A feral child (also, colloquially, wild child) is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has no (or little) experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and, crucially, of human language.[1] Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); …. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends.

What do you think of when you imagine a feral child? Most of you probably dial up a Disney-esque Mowgli, a child abandoned by circumstance and left to be raised by animals.

Few of us imagine a child isolated as a toddler, given food laced with sedatives and having very little contact with the outside world. “Mitchell”, we’ll call him, was contacted by the authorities when they discovered his biological triplet sons had been isolated in a room with very little outside contact from the ages of about one to about three.

Mitch’s boys’ mother had multiple psychiatric disorders, and why she had any sort of custody of these kids is a mystery to me. The boys’ physical growth had been stunted and their linguistic development almost nil.

That is to say, their conventional linguistic development. Most of us with healthy parent-child relationships see our children ride a magnificent wave of language acquisition during these crucial years. When the boys were discovered to be living in these horrendous conditions, they had developed a language of their own. They are the size of a typical one year old, and chatter away with each other, clearly understanding what the other has to say.

They bring each other things, have conversations, and play side by side. The problem is, no one else in the world has a clue what they are saying.

Mitch desperately wanted custody of his boys. He received it, but in order to keep it, he has to keep up with an onerous schedule of various therapies all at his expense. Mitch is a blue collar worker, and is pedaling as fast as he can to make sure his boys get to all of their appointments.

So he lands on EA’s doorstep.

“Please. Victoria. No one else has space for all of them. I can’t break them up, and it would kill me to be running to three different facilities. Can you help?”

Can I help.

Three profoundly abused, seriously disabled little boys, and a dad who’s doing everything in his power to keep them at home.

On the one hand, this is the most depressing part of my job. Lock three little children in a room for over a year? The diaper rash alone must have left permanent scars. What kind of person uses their power for such a profoundly negative thing?

A sick one.

On the other hand, what an opportunity for good. Perhaps three isn’t too late. Noam Chomsky postulated on the “Language Acquisition Device” that all children have, and theorized that all children can learn language until about twelve.

Other theorists speculate that the cutoff is closer to six. Much past that, and the hope of being a native language speaker diminishes rapidly.

Still, there might be a chance. So what do I do? Our country is headed for disaster in terms  of early childhood education. If President Obama has his way, our country will soon not have a K-12 school system, but a PS-16 state funded system. The reasons to be apprehensive about this are legion.

Back to Mitch. The state has stated to Mitch that if he does not provide an appropriate educational environment for these boys, at his expense, the boys will land in foster care and the state will find preschool placement for them.

This is insane.

Mitch wants his boys. Because the dad assumes responsibility of these profoundly damaged kids, he must pay an enormous fee for them to come to my school, or the state will take them and tax dollars will not only pay their preschool fees, but their foster care and upkeep as well.

This makes no sense.

Why not halve the cost, have the state pay a discounted rate to EA, and Mitch pay to raise his sons, as it should be?

So, I turn this over in my mind, and I bring it to you. Are any of you advocates for the disenfranchised? Advocates for the rights of fathers? Can any of you help me help Mitch?

If we can find the funding for all three of these kids, including the funding for a special aide just for the boys, we at EA could make a profound difference in the language development of these kids.

In the mean time, pray for Mitch. Pray for the feral kids who are isolated, but not discovered yet. Pray that there is still hope for us, as humans, to treat the least among us with some degree of dignity.

It’s what Jesus would have us do.

Much love,

Victoria

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Nine, it must be Paris. On Trans Women, Drinking Chocolate and Talking Sexuality.


So here I sit on the left bank of the river Seine. I can actually see blue sky, and leave my jacket open, so I know I’m not in London. We are slowly unclenching, my girls and I, we slept in until ten thirty this morning, and then saw this.

The south rose window of Notre Dame

The south rose window of Notre Dame

It was worth most of the day to go to Notre Dame. Really, Catholics have some incredible history in their cathedrals. Just thinking about all the scaffolding needed to build these enormous vaulted ceilings makes my head spin. It’s nearly 850 years old, and still standing! Sure, a number of restorations, but remarkable nonetheless.

We then found an entire street next to ours, that was simply several huge blocks of art galleries. I would have been drawn and quartered had I taken pictures, so leave it to say my desire for new artwork in my home far exceeds my budget. Fun to look, though.

Dinner, and then this.

The Eiffel tower, during the evening light show.

The Eiffel tower, during the evening light show.

Who can resist? There is something special about La Tour Eiffel. We went around nine o’clock, when the crowds were minimal and the view still superb.

What was really fun though, was the perpetual search for drinking chocolate on the way back. Now, after Cambridge, we have been completely spoiled for hot chocolate. or ‘chocolate chaud’ here. We found a little shop there, where for one pound seventy, you got a little pot of this marvelous, thick concoction topped with real whipped cream. Gracious, non of this nasty, powdery just-add-water stuff will ever do again. So we keep looking, my girls and I.

We passed a gelato shop, and had high hopes. When we were about to enter, I was startled by the appearance of a genuine trans woman coming toward me. He was wearing a bright purple tutu, red leggings, boots, a wig like Mom used to wear, and a profound five oclock shadow. It was one of those rare times I was rendered speechless.

“Girls!” I hissed, after he was out of earshot. “Did you see that?” The girls erupted into laughter.

“Duh! Geez, Mom! Was that the first trannie you’ve seen this trip? We’ve seen at least six!”

“Well,” I stumbled around. “Yes, I guess it was. I so want to give him a makeover. Nana had a wig like that!” I giggled. “And a purple tutu? Doesn’t he have a sister?”

“Wow! Judge much?” my liberal college age girls taunted. Actually, not at all. Jesus is the only one who can change people’s hearts, I wouldn’t even try. But a purple tutu?

In Paris, I’ve noticed that same sex couples are much freer than in the US. Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of slack for what some people might call a liberal attitude toward that sort of sexuality.

I find though, that the proof of something can often be found in one’s children. I don’t find sexual sin to be any different than anything else. Let’s be clear, the Bible is quite specific about homosexuality. As it is about gluttony, strife, envy, murder, and my all time favorite, gossip.

So Chris and I trained our children accordingly. Jesus didn’t die twice for the gay man, any more than he did the addict or the angry man. We’ve had a lot of time to talk about all sorts of things on this trip, and it’s really fun to get to know my girls in their near-adult incarnations.

As college freshman, they are subject to the antics of a lot of near-adults in their dorms. Sexual exploration, alcohol abuse, and all kinds of random behavior are seen by them on a regular basis. They’ve both developed a remarkably sensitive ‘gaydar’, for example. A compassionate one, too.

As I listen to them talk about their gay friends, I find I can drop some of the jaundice I’ve developed over the years toward some of the more rabid members of that community. I was raised conservative Baptist, remember, and many of my leaders had a special contempt reserved for gay folks.

It’s funny though, my own mother was a great counter example. Raised extremely conservative Grace Bretheren, she didn’t see a movie or play cards until she was 21.

Yet here are some great “Nana Quotes.”

“Vickey, Diana is coming over for dinner. Now, don’t tell your dad, but she’s a homosexual and she’s bringing her friend.”

“Vickey, Vickey! Listen to me. Don’t tell your dad, but your piano teacher is getting a divorce because he’s gay. His boyfriend is very nice, and Milton and Betty are still great friends. But don’t tell your dad, he just doesn’t understand.”

And on and on. Little bitty Nana, friends with everyone, no matter what their issues. Sound familiar? I bet Jesus would have done the same thing.

So I stand on the sidelines and watch. I admire the gay men walking arm in arm, securely wrapped in knotted scarves and impeccably dressed. I go to a vintage clothing shop with Abi, and admire a pair of leggy French women, obviously partners, trying on hats.

I listen to my daughters talk about “Gay Tam” and “Lesbian Sal” without an ounce of judgement in their voices. I hear them talk about asking everyone to their church’s caroling, or service project, and wonder at the architecture of friendship.

There’s an unexpected sort of purity there, and I find it delightful. They know exactly what’s going on, and accept these kids anyway. It’s sort of magnificent, almost as much as Notre Dame.

Much love,

Victoria

“Places, Everyone!” Moving on with Evita.


 

Evergreen has a surprising amount of cultural activity for such a little, spread out town. Late last spring the local community theater, the Evergreen Chorale, had auditions for the musical Evita.

Faith was all over the auditions, of course. I had gotten in several months of coaching with Brook, my ballroom teacher, and thought I might give it a go. As the time drew nearer, I wondered what on earth had gotten in to me.

I could sing a bit, dance more, and act some. But really, Faith is dazzling on stage, and everyone else very likely inhabited that orbit. What on God’s green earth made me think I could keep up?

Besides, some of you know about the terrible unexplained neuropathy that took over my feet during the last months of Chris’s cancer. It got so bad at one point that I could not stand without the sensation of walking on a sharpened bed of knives. That lasted for months. (What a great example of sin inhabiting our very DNA. Dance is one of the great loves of my life, and the stress of it all taking over my feet was just a killer.)

Well, what the heck. What’s the worst that could happen? Certainly no one was going to die, right? No one would throw a tomato at me if I muffed Amazing Grace for the singing audition, and the pain in my feet had receded quite a bit. I could (probably) keep the staggering to a minimum.

Besides, how cool would it be to see Faith’s name in lights someday, and to know that I had shared a stage with her long ago?

So, music in hand, off I went. I sang for a gentle-looking man named John, and a completely terrifying little German woman named Christine.

The pianist was already familiar, as he played piano for Faith’s choir at school. DJ is one of the most fascinating characters I know. Sort of like a taller, younger Billy Joel, DJ is keyboard wizard, as well as a private investigator and attorney. What a combination!

The dance audition was for a perky, smiley little firecracker of a choreographer named Melissa.

The choreography was simple, but nerves and nerve pain are very real. I shuffled my way through the steps, near tears about what I used to be able to do, and clenching my teeth through the excruciating pain. Ah, well, at least I had tried!

When we were done, I hid my dismay from Faith, and we went out for ice cream. Several days later, to my surprise, I got a call back for the singing chorus! A few days after that, Hank, the production manager, asked if I would fill in a space for the dance chorus. Hank is a handsome specimen of a former leading man, and I was delighted.

The man I had auditioned for turned out to be John Thornberry, the director.  As this process continued, it was fascinating to listen to this thing take shape. The language of creating dance and the language of creating musical theater are completely different, but if you listen closely, you can hear similar patterns. Sort of like listening to French and German.

I thought it would be better for me if I kept my mouth shut and my ears open during rehearsals. No one needed to know the last time I stepped on a stage was with a community dance troupe in Schenectady, in the early 90’s. My voice? Well, children are a wonderful audience. I sing all the time in school, and they always clap!

It turned out this was a good call. The experience of this group simply overflowed. It was fascinating to listen to one cast member named Bethany talk about her husband Mark’s creepy hair extensions during a production of Jekyll and Hyde. Another gal named Stacey told me a tale about singing “Breath of Heaven” in front of a church with thousands of people listening. Her husband Chad had had too many roles to count, and a dashing gentleman named Wendall had been in over 30 productions. Lori Atkinson had just finished a lead part in Once Upon a Mattress. The first time I sat beside her during the music rehearsal, I was dumbstruck for just a moment. She sang alto next to me, and was so accurate with every note, I just had to  listen. This was going to be great! What an opportunity!

Becky Donnella, an aspiring nurse, was cast as Eva. Brian Sides, in intimidating bear of a police detective, was Peron. That these two were also engaged in real life, only added to the color and charm of the  theatrical  experience they displayed on stage.

The rehearsals ramped up as time went by. First weekly, then twice weekly. As the production dates drew near, we had two weeks of several hours every day. I suddenly understood what had exhausted Faith about “Hell Week”.

As a chorus member, I got a surprising amount of stage time. It was a twelve show run, and I was in about a third of the scenes. In between scenes, I often stood and watched the other cast members perform. Some of the songs and scenes just never got old!

Take this one, for example.

In this picture, Chad is playing the part of Magaldi, a tango singer who is one of a long list of men for Eva. Lighter than air, and almost too fabulous, Chad milks this part for all it’s cheesy glory. Ever see a lounge singer? The hilarious thing about this is that Chad has a lovely, powerful tenor. I got to sing beside him in several other scenes. He was so spot on, I had to rehearse with DJ several times by myself to make sure I could keep my alto, without accidentally joining Chad!

Every time Chad sang this part, it just cracked me up. I would stand in the wings and listen, and watch Faith and the others consistently give a Beatles-swoon to his song. (Except for Damon, of course, who perfected a magnificent sneer.)

In this picture, Norika is singing the part of Peron’s discarded mistress. Norika is an unusually gifted singer, and 15. Creepily, Peron’s mistress before Eva was also 15. The men in this number have lovely, rumbling harmony.

The big guy Matt, has a fabulous bass, and is an artist by trade.

Once, during an especially tiring rehearsal at the firehouse, all of us were listening to John, and secretly checking the clock.  Our backs were to the dry erase boards against the wall. Except for Matt’s. When we turned around to go, we were treated to this-

Courtesy of Matt. Faith and I still laugh about that one.

We rehearsed more and more, and slowly my own terror began to ebb.

Funny, when Chris was so sick, I developed this irrational fear of falling down. If you think about it, it only makes sense. If I fell down, I might get hurt, and couldn’t take care of him, or the kids, and, horrors, might need to be taken care of myself. This, coupled with the intermittent agony of my feet, made simple walking quite a mental task.

So, now I was in a position of not just walking, but walking in character. Walking in close proximity with other people. Walking around stuff. Walking in time, walking around props, walking backwards, walking in slow motion. When it finally penetrated that I would be doing all of this in front of people who were paying good money to see it, I very nearly fled.

That’s me in the tie. Walking different characters, dontcha know.

But, like Brook says,  perfect practice makes perfect, and my head was in the game, even if my body checked out from time to time. We practiced things endlessly, and slowly I began to really know that I could do this part, and make it fun for people to watch.

Twelve shows is a long time for an amateur like me, and toward the middle of it, it began to slip on like a familiar jacket. Even on a Friday after a long week, when going home and plopping on the couch was a lot more appealing, going to perform in “Evita” was something I looked forward to.

There was constant backstage chatter, especially among the women. With characters like these, who can resist?

I’ve been a teacher my whole life, so I can honestly say it gives me a great deal of pleasure to learn. I learned a so much from every single one of these cast members, and did it while having a blast.

Chris would have smiled.

Stepping out like this has also produced a whole lotta ‘wanta’s. So, here’s my list.

Wanta look like Audrey Hepburn (I mean Stacey)

Wanta adopt both Damon and Alejandro (Hey, maybe there’s a Puerto Rican in my checkered past.)

Wanta have Chad for a ballroom partner

Wanta sing like Norika

Wanta dance with Melissa again .   Wanta have Brian around for any                                                                        trouble

                                          Wanta have Becky as that ultracool, uber talented little sister.

And above all, wanta have that super expressive kid around forever. Wait, got that one covered! Much appreciation to all of you, I couldn’t have asked for a better, more uplifting run!

Sincerely and with much love,

Victoria